Ombuds more prevalent across higher education
As many institutions and industries — such as higher education — find themselves reacting to and resolving a variety of conflicts in their communities, the role of an ombuds is becoming more important and more prevalent.
Shannon Lynn Burton, named university ombudsperson in July 2018, finds herself part of a trend nationwide where many educational associations and organizations are calling on ombuds to ensure their annual meetings and conferences run smoothly and participants have a third-party resource available to them to address conflicts and concerns.
Last spring, Burton served as one of the inaugural co-ombuds for the American Educational Research Association. The association created the program to support and strengthen its commitment to fostering an inclusive, supportive and respectful environment at its annual meetings. During their April meeting, more than 14,000 members gathered.
“Many professional research associations and organizations are creating ombuds programs to address vital issues such as harassment, discrimination and incivility,” she said. “While this was a new initiative, I believe it was beneficial to both attendees and the association as it allowed an avenue to address issues facing academia that span not only individual institutions but all disciplines as well.”
During that annual meeting, concerns from accessibility to harassment to academic misconduct, among others, were brought to the co-ombuds. Burton also helped guide individuals to resources available at their home institutions. The model used at that meeting, teaming a professional om-buds with a researcher who has received ombuds training, is one that other associations are examining and adopting across the country.
Back at MSU, Burton’s role focuses on assisting students in resolving conflicts or disputes with the university. She also helps staff members, instructors and administrators sort through university rules and regulations that might apply to specific student issues and concerns.
She said expanding the role of ombuds across higher education, both at schools and associations, is something she expects to continue.
“One of the other key roles of ombuds is to look at systemic trends and concerns and recommend potential solutions to our organizations,” she said. “We are a confidential, neutral, independent and informal resource that can help provide an objective lens to a situation and options, especially as it relates to fairness, equity and due process.”
MSU’s Office of the University Ombudsperson was one of the first offices of its kind in higher education and remains the longest continuously operating college or university ombudsperson office in the country.
For more info about the MSU Ombusperson office and available resources, go to ombud.msu.edu.