President Paxson recently announced that the University Ombuds Office, which in the past served the faculty and postdoctoral communities, would expand its services beginning August 1, 2013 to include all staff (union and non-union) and graduate students. The Ombuds Office is independent from any other office and reports directly to Brown’s president; it provides a confidential resource for individuals to be heard and begin to discuss any workplace concerns "off the record."
Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg is the full-time ombudsperson at Brown’s Ombuds Office. She spoke recently with the President’s Staff Advisory Council to answer some questions about the work of the Ombuds Office and her own background.
What are the most important things staff should know about the Brown University Ombuds Office?
The Ombudsperson is a confidential, neutral, informal, independent resource. You do not need to worry about whether your issue is appropriate to bring to the ombudsperson—I am available to listen and to provide assistance with all types of issues. I do not turn anyone away.
How can someone make an appointment?
You can call me directly via my office phone (863-6145) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where is the Ombuds Office located?
The Ombuds Office is located on the third floor of the Hillel House at the corner of Angell and Brown streets.
Could you say a little more about the confidentiality part?
Appointments can be made anonymously, and no records of names, departments or job titles are kept. The information collected concerns the categories of the Brown community members who are using the service and the types of issues. This information is used to identify trends.
The only instances under which any information at all would be divulged would be if there is an imminent risk of serious harm or if the information was required under a court order.
What does it mean when you say that the Ombuds Office is neutral?
The Office does not advocate for individuals or for the University. Instead it seeks to find ways for individuals and groups to find mutual understanding and benefit. The Office helps to resolve issues by providing information about avenues of assistance and relevant policies, and help with constructive conflict resolution.
And it’s informal? What does that mean?
We say that the Ombuds Office is an informal entity because it cannot ‘enact’ anything itself and speaking to the Ombudsperson does not mean you are giving ‘legal notice’ to the University. However, what it can and does do is ask questions about issues in order to increase information and awareness, promote clarification, and facilitate understanding—and hopefully a resolution that is amenable to all sides.
What does it mean to say that the Ombuds Office is independent?
The Ombuds Office stands outside of both the University administration and the workforce and Ombudsperson reports directly to Brown’s President. And, to reconfirm, the information shared is about general issues and trends not specific names or other personally identifiable information.
How does the Ombuds Office relate to Human Resources at Brown?
Great question. The best way to describe it is to think of the Ombuds Office as an independent, informal supplement to all resources and offices at Brown.
What are some of the issues that you might anticipate that staff at Brown could encounter?
Members of the Brown community are free to discuss any concerns with me, but I could anticipate situations such as where staff members have concerns about coworkers, supervisors, supervisees, the work environment, fair treatment, bullying, policies, best practices, difficult conversations, or suggestions for what could be done better.
The extension of the Ombuds Office to cover staff seems like a fantastic move! What led you to this role at Brown? Could you tell us a little about your background?
I have over 25 years of experience in conflict engagement, most recently as director of student mediation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I hold a J.D. from the University of Connecticut School of Law and have also taught as an adjunct professor at Roger Williams University School of Law. From 2000 to 2006, I was Special Assistant to the Dean of BioMed here at Brown.
Off the top of your head, do you have any advice for staff working at Brown?
Yes. Take time to listen, and it never hurts to be polite. Come to the Ombuds Office earlier rather than later. And a tip—never engage in a conflict with someone over email. If you read something that you don’t like, take a time out to collect yourself and contact the person either by phone or in person to resolve the issue. And remember that anything you write in an email is there forever.
Learn more about the Brown University Ombuds Office and Ruthy, and access a range of self-help tools, at the Ombuds Office website.