2007-2008 Annual Report

Table of Contents

Introduction

Section  1: Foundation

Section 2: Profile of Office Visitors

Section 3: Issue Summary

 

INTRODUCTION

Bellevue College established the ombuds office in late spring of 2007. The first ombuds, Miranda Kato was appointed on May 16, 2007 in the eighth week of Spring Quarter. In addition to setting up the office, initial efforts were made to establish the foundation of the office: mission, services, guiding principles, and procedures. After researching ombuds practices in multiple universities and colleges in U.S. and Canada, Bellevue College Ombuds Office adopts the principles, practices, and code of ethics established by the International Ombudsman Association (IOA): confidentiality, impartiality, informality, and independence.  Although the ombuds office is a part of campus operations, it is an independent and impartial office.

In the first year of operations, the ombuds handled various issues of concern from students, faculty, staff, and parents by phone and in person.

This annual report reviews the foundation of the Bellevue College ombuds office, its services from Spring 2007 to Spring 2008, trends on campus issues during the period, recommendations on systemic change, and future plans of the ombuds office.

This report has the following three sections:

  • Section One of this report contains the description of the foundation of the ombuds office: mission, role and guiding principle.
  • Section Two of this report provides detailed information on the profile of office visitors including the number of visitors, visitor’s role, gender, and ethnicity.
  • Section Three of this report summarizes issues of concern addressed by the ombuds office from spring 2007 to spring 2008.

SECTION 1: FOUNDATION

The ombuds office is a place where a student, a staff member, or a faculty member can have his/her voice heard and also receive impartial consultation without fear of loss of privacy.

Mission

The ombuds office strives to promote and protect the rights and interests of individuals including students, faculty, and staff members at Bellevue College. The goals of ombuds services are to foster equity, fairness, pluralism, and institutional values.

Role of Ombuds Office

The concept of an ombuds is understood in a variety of ways on campus. A lot of individuals on campus expect the ombuds to serve as an institutional conscience, constantly challenging and pushing an organization toward fairness and good practices. Some expect the ombuds to represent the true scale of justice, weighing two sides of disputes and helping facilitate solutions that are acceptable for all.  Others consider the ombuds as a complaint handler, and still others see the ombuds as an internal consultant who provides valuable feedback for management. 

There is accuracy in each of these characterizations. Most importantly, the Ombuds office is an alternative, informal, confidential, and non-adversarial channel to resolve issues of concern. As an informal system, the ombuds serves as an internal consultant for individuals from various constituent groups. As an institutional function, the ombuds office exists to fulfill three main purposes: informal problem assistance, organizational critical self-analysis, and education.

The role of the ombuds office can be clearly understood by its guiding principles and its services

Guiding Principles

Services of the ombuds office are guided by the international ombuds association’s code of ethics: confidentiality, informality, impartiality, independence, and empowerment.

Confidentiality

The ombuds office will treat all matters confidentially within the bounds of the law. The ombuds will not disclose the names and/or concerns of clients without permission except under the following three conditions:

  1. The ombuds believes there is an imminent threat of physical harm,
  2. Federal and/or state laws mandate the disclosure of details that identify a client.
  3. There is a legal proceeding with a subpoena.

Informality

The ombuds serves as a neutral problem-solving consultant.  During the process, the ombuds listens to the client, explains the college’s policies and procedures, provides tools and resources, reframes issues, identifies options, initiates third-party interventions if necessary,  facilitates the conflict resolution process for a dispute with permission, and recommends system changes. However, the ombuds will stay neutral if a case is in the formal complaint and/or litigation process and will not get involved in any formal investigation process.

Impartiality

The goal of services offered by the ombuds office is to foster fairness, equity, and pluralism in the institution. The ombuds is neither an advocate for any individual nor for the institution in a dispute.  S/he does not take part in any party in a dispute but only advocates the fair process and equitable results.

Independence

To maintain objectivity, the ombuds reports directly to the president of the college and is not aligned with any administrative unit.  However, this does not preclude the ombuds office from collaborating with various administrative units and committees on campus to reach equitable results.

Empowerment

IOA’s practices, principles, and code of ethics endorse the concept that participating in the ombuds services is a voluntary activity. The principle of empowerment used in Bellevue College is to stress this important concept even though it is not listed as an operating principle in IOA’s principle. Services provided by the ombuds office are aimed to equip clients with skills to resolve their issues. The client will be empowered to take actions according to their level of confidence at any given point.

Ombuds Services

To accomplish the mission of the ombuds office, the following services are provided to visitors of the office.

One on one Consultation refers to situations where the ombuds listens to visitors’ concerns, answers their questions, identifies their interests, considers their goals, and/or helps them develop and analyze options to address their concerns.

Referrals are situations where the ombuds sends the visitor to another on-campus or off-campus resource for primary or follow-up assistance. The ombuds usually provides one-on-one consultation before a visitor is referred to another resource.

Group Facilitated Discussions refers to situations where the ombuds facilitates structured meetings to assist the parties in a dispute to reach a mutually agreeable resolution. This service will only be provided when all parties involved agree to meet to work on their issue of concern with an open mind.  Prior to a facilitated meeting, parties in a dispute will meet with the ombuds separately. The ombuds will develop a meeting agenda based on the common goals of the two parties. It usually takes two or three sessions for parties to reach a mutually agreeable resolution.  Facilitated discussions are also used to help groups identify issues, resolve conflicts, and build teamwork.

Informal Investigation refers to the situations where the ombuds contacts others or obtains additional information to help the visitor. The ombuds will NOT contact others without permission of the visitor.  Informal investigation includes the following:

  1. Contact others involved in the same situation as the visitor to discuss their perceptions or concerns about the issue presented by a visitor.  The ombuds will then work with parties involved to determine whether and how to resolve the issues.
  2. Gather information about policy requirements to assist a visitor in deciding whether to proceed or how to proceed with the next step on the issue he/she is working on.

Be aware that informal investigation conducted by the ombuds is confidential. 

Training and Education refers to the situation where the ombuds helps the visitor develop skills to handle a challenging situation.

Institutional Change Recommendations refer to situations where the ombuds recommends systemic changes to address the trends of issues handled by the ombuds office.

What the Ombuds Office does NOT Do

  1. As an informal, non-adversarial, and confidential problem solving organization, the ombuds office does not do the following:
  2. Share confidential information with any college administrators or others without a visitor’s permission except in the three exceptional conditions described in the confidentiality section.
  3. Maintain formal written case records which will reveal the identity of the visitor.
  4. Make, change, or set aside a law, organizational policy, or administrative decision.
  5. Replace any administrative functions on the campus.
  6. Force anyone to implement the office’s recommendations.
  7. Serve as a place to put the college on notice of claims.
  8. Judge which party is at fault.
  9. Serve as an advocate for any party in a dispute.
  10. Assist an individual who has pursued a formal channel (i.e., formal complaint, academic grievance) to resolve their issues unless all parties and the presiding officer in that action explicitly consent to suspect the formal process.
  11. Represent any visitor or college member in any college formal hearings.
  12. Represent any visitor or college member in any judicial hearings and proceedings.
  13. Testify in any judicial proceedings unless required by law after reasonable efforts have been made.

 

SECTION 2: PROFILE OF OFFICE VISITORS

The ombuds office uses the term “visitor” to describe an individual who receives and participates in ombuds services in person or via telephone since the term “client” commonly implies advocacy which contradicts the neutral role of the office.

Visitors can be:

  1. initiators who contact the office to request help in resolving their issues of concern
  2. participants who are directly involved in a situation with an initiator and whom the ombuds contacts with the permission of initiators
  3. information contacts whom the ombuds contacts to obtain  information pertaining to a situation.

Who are office visitors?

During this period, there were 207 visitors including 149 contact initiators and 32.participants and 26 information contacts.  These numbers are the total headcounts for those with whom the ombuds office worked. Some individuals might have been counted as an initiator and an information contact in different cases. Some individuals might have been counted multiple times as an information contact for various cases.

Figure 1

Among 149 initiator-visitors, 72 (49% ) of them were students, 35 ( 23 %) were staff members, 33 (22%) were faculty members, and  9 (6%) were parents.

Figure 2

Of these 149 initiator-visitors, 89 (60%) of them are female and 60 (40%) are male.  

Figure 3

Of 149 initiator-visitors, 54 (36%) were Caucasians,28(19%) were Asian Pacific,11 (7%) were African Americans, 4 (3%) were Hispanics/Latinos, 4(3%) were Muslims,  and 2 (1%) were Native Americans. Forty six (31%) of these initiator-visitors did not identify their ethnic or religious backgrounds.

2007-2008 figure 4

Means of Contact and Consultation

Students, parents, staff and faculty members can contact the ombuds office in person, by phone, and by email. Ombuds services are confidential. The ombuds will not speak to anyone without the visitor’s permission.  Given the confidential nature of the services offered by the office and the fact that email is not a confidential means of communication, the ombuds discourages the use of email as a communication vehicle.  The ombuds office only uses e-mail to set up a face to face appointment or a phone conference. The ombuds office does not consult over email or with instant messaging. Phone conferences are available for students participating in distance education.  

The following data indicated how visitors received the ombuds’ consultation.

2007-2008 figure 5

SECTION 3: ISSUE SUMMARY – What Concerns Do Visitors Bring?

Context

Listed below were the issues the initiator visitors identified when they contacted the ombuds office. The data were presented by each constituent group. Please be mindful of the following points in order to interpret the data in the proper context:

  1. These data are reflections and perceptions of a party involved in a difficult situation.  They reveal individual’s feelings and subjective experiences toward specific incidents. They are NOT the objective judgments of uninvolved parties.
  2. These data represent largely uninvestigated allegations of individuals contacting the ombuds office for assistance.
  3. These data are NOT the result of a poll or random survey of members of the college. Rather, the incidents reflected in the data represented concerns presented by 149 self-selected individuals who chose to contact our office. 
  4. It was common for a visitor to identify multiple concerns during one visit since an unresolved concern can lead to another concern

Concerns Brought by Students

The following summarizes the concerns 72 students brought to the ombuds office from Spring 2007 to Spring 2008. A visitor might identify multiple concerns during one visit since an unresolved concern can lead to another concern. The following discussions are presented in the order of their frequency.

Grade Concern

A majority of concerns brought by students involve grade concerns. Grade concerns were manifested in the areas of grading criteria and rubric, learning feedback, cut-off points, relationships with instructors, learning assessments, and course policies.

Learning Experience

There seemed to be a positive correlation between student learning experiences and their grades since concerns about learning experience were usually brought by the visitors who were concerned about their grade. Concerns of learning experience were exhibited in the student’s concerns of quality of instruction, instructional contents, purpose of assessment, and disrespectful treatments.

Other Concerns

Other concerns brought by student visitors include concerns over financial aid, campus safety, privacy, withdrawal and tuition refunds, campus closure policies, academic integrity policies, and course/faculty evaluations, relationships with other students, and cell phone harassment.

Concerns brought by the Faculty Members

The following summarizes the concerns 33 faculty members brought to the ombuds office from Spring 2007 to Spring 2008. A faculty visitor might identify multiple concerns during one visit since an unresolved concern can lead to another concern. The following discussions are presented in the order of their frequency

Policies and Procedures

The majority of inquiries from the faculty involved college policies and processes. Complaint Policy, BIRST processes and reporting, and the college policy making/change process were the policies frequently inquired. The functions, operations, and guiding principles of the ombuds office and office of pluralism and equity were sometimes inquired.

Relationships with Peers and Students

Some faculty members sought advice in dealing with their relationship issues with their students, class dynamics, and their tenure review committee.

Evaluative Relationships

Some faculty members were concerned that their program chairs will use course assignments as a tool to get even with them.  Some complained that course assignments were based on favoritism.

Campus climate

Some faculty members had concerns over the existing approaches of pluralism and diversity training.

Compensation & Benefits

Some part-time faculty members voiced their concerns of pay disparity between part-time faculty and full-time faculty, and pay disparity among part-time faculty members in the same pay step.  Some part-time faculty members inquired about their benefit eligibility.

Career Progression and Development

Some faculty members had concerns in the areas of hiring practices for tenured track and part-time faculty, faculty evaluations, course assignments, and tenure resignation procedures.

Safety, Health, and Physical Environment

Faculty members sought help with concerns about classroom temperatures and classroom safety.

Concerns Brought by Staff Members

The following summarizes the concerns 35 staff members brought to the ombuds office from Spring 2007 to Spring 2008. A visitor might identify multiple concerns during one visit since an unresolved concern can lead to another concern. The following discussions are presented in the order of their frequency

Policies and Procedures

A majority of staff visitors inquired about college policies and procedures. Complaint policy was the most frequently inquired. Other inquiries include family medical leave, confidentiality and privacy, job accommodation policies, EEOC, retaliation protection, telecommuting practices, layoff criteria and agent shop and union fees.

Evaluative Relationship

There were requests for help in dealing with stressful evaluative relationships, bullying, threatening or coercive behavior, diversity-related issues, equity of treatment, performance appraisal, and communication problems with their supervisors.

Career Progression and Development

There are requests for help in understanding and completing job reclassification processes and salary appeal application.

Safety, Health, and Physical Environment

Some staff raised concerns about office temperatures.

Concerns Brought by Parents

Parents’ concerns include their children’s learning experience, grade concern, and campus safety.

How did the Ombuds Office Assist Visitors

The goal of the ombuds office is to resolve the issue of concern in a non-adversarial , timely, and equitable manner. The ombuds approaches each issue from a neutral perspective. Whether an individual contacts the ombuds by phone or in person, the first thing the ombuds does is to listen in a caring, open-minded, and non-evaluative manner.  The ombuds office offers full privacy for a visitor to share his/her own issue of concern confidentially.

Depending on the nature of concern and individual decision, the ombuds will conduct one-on-one consultation sessions, informal investigation, group facilitation, coaching and training, and recommend systemic changes to administrators with authority.

One-on-one consultation is the ombuds’ most common approach in dealing with all visitors.

Some visitors might come to the office to share their concern confidentially and expect no specific action from the ombuds office.  However, a majority of visitors would hope to receive help in resolving their issues of concern.  After listening to the visitor’s description of the story, the ombuds will attempt to help the visitor clarify the issues, identify interests, consider goals, and develop various feasible action steps to resolve issues.  

Visitors are empowered to pursue the options according to their comfort zone.  The Ombuds will not compel individuals to take any action plan. The ombuds will take action on behalf of a visitor when permission is given.

When appropriate and requested, the ombuds might be involved in training and coaching visitors in developing skills and confidence needed for their desired action.

When it is appropriate and the ombuds has the visitor’s permission, the ombuds will look into the issue by obtaining relevant information and/or contacting other individuals involved in the same situation to clarify the issues and identify possible solutions.

In some situations where all parties are willing to seek a mutually agreeable resolution, the ombuds will facilitate a structured meeting to help the parties in a dispute.

The ombuds also assists visitors by referring them to other on-campus/off campus resources who can best address their concerns.

As the ombuds observes problematic trends and systemic issue at the college, she will bring the issues to the administrators’ attention and recommend possible systemic changes as appropriate. During the first year, the ombuds  has helped 149 individuals   Some individuals might bring multiple issues of concern during their visits. Services to resolve an issue might involve more than one type of ombuds service. In general, one-on-one consultation has been the ombuds first year’s  primary activities. Informal contact/investigation is the second most frequent activity. Referral services are the third most frequent. Coaching is the least requested service.  The ombuds office only facilitated 4 structured meetings in the first year.