The top stories about Organizational Ombuds last year included some lows and highs.

10. Notable Retirements -- Two notable Ombuds retired in 2014.  Mary Rowe, considered by many to be the matriarch of the profession, retired after four decades of conflict resolution at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and leadership within the Ombuds profession.  In addition, Mary Childers retired in June after serving as the founding Ombuds at Dartmouth since 2007. 

9.  New Programs Continued Apace -- Ombuds offices were created at a pace that outstripped the few closures.  The new programs were (in approximate date order):

The notable closures were few:

8.  American Universities Continued to Defend Ombuds' Confidentiality in Sexual Misconduct Matters -- After the U.S. Department of Education muddied the waters regarding the rules for handling Title IX compla... in 2012, Ombuds were on edge.   In 2013, several universities reaffirmed their Ombuds' confidentiality and/or brought their Ombuds into the conversation about responding to sexual misconduct.  The trend continued with some prominent schools endorsing Ombuds' confidentiality, including: Grinnell CollegeColorado College; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; University of California Irvine; University of Oregon; and Stanford.

7.  ABA Ombuds Committee Defined its Role -- In December, the American Bar Association Section of Dispute Resolution Section Ombuds Committee outlined its vision mission and goals. If the Committee reaches its objectives for next year, it will have, "Distributed an information packet describing ombuds programs suitable for consideration by law firms, their clients, law schools, and other organizations." This would be one of the most aggressive and targeted outreach campaigns for Organizational Ombuds.
6.  Embattled New Jersey Governor Appoints an Ombuds --  Early in the year, a legal team appointed by Governor Chris Christie named Patrick E. Hobbs, Dean of Seton Hall Law School, as the first Ombudsman for the Office of the Governor. According to the New York Times, Hobbs will be in charge of ensuring that employees receive “robust” training in ethics, and will shape a new office of the chief ethics officer for the governor and create a system for employees to report concerns about wrongdoing.


5.  University of California Embraces Ombuds Offices -- After the former California Chief Justice investigated faculty allegations of bias and discrimination UCLA, University of California President Janet Napolitano said that every campus in the sprawling ten-campus system should have an Ombuds program.  Subsequent internal emails confirmed that the UC Ombuds follow IOA standards of confidentiality.  Although some UC campuses have had Ombuds programs for over four decades, this was the first time the system has acknowledged their role.

4. Concept of Ombuds for Athletes Gains Traction -- Although this may fall in the category of an idea whose time is yet to come, the Athlete Ombuds proposal received a boost on two fronts in 2014.  In May, the annual meeting of Professional Association of Athlete Development Specialists featured a presentation on how Ombuds can help athletes, teams, and organizations. In September, a task force at UC Berkeley looking into low graduation rates for football players, recommended the appointment of an Ombuds specifically for student-athletes following many of the same reasons. 

3. Activists Fail to Trigger Ombuds --  New Ombuds programs were suggested for two very different beleaguered organizations.  Early in the year, Ralph Nader repeatedly urged General Motors to implement an Ombuds program to remedy a "culture of avoidance or coverup" that lead to the recall of 28 million vehicles for faulty ignition switches.  In the fall, most of the faculty at the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church demanded an Ombuds as one of the remedies for an alleging pattern of harassment and bullying behavior by the school's dean.  Unfortunately, neither General Motors nor the General Theological Seminary conceded to these demands.

 
2. Sen. Harkin Embarrasses Title IX Expert -- During a Senate committee hearing in July, Senator Tom Harkin's questioning of  Catherine Lhamon, the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights at the U.S. Department of Education, revealed a surprising knowledge about Ombuds on his part, and a disappointing lack of knowledge on her part.  For those that follow Ombuds issues and politics, this was exciting.

1. IOA Takes a Stand on Title IX -- In response to concerns regarding the confidentiality of communications about sexual misconduct in higher education, the IOA Board requested the Department of Education clarify its regulat... to protect Ombuds. In a comment to a proposed rule, IOA  requested that the final regulations permit colleges and universities to designate Ombuds as a “confidential resource,” rather than as a “responsible employee” or “campus security authority” which are required to report instances of sexual misconduct. This is only the second time that IOA formally provided input to a U.S. federal agency.

 
Related Ombuds Blog posts: The Ombuds Blog Top Ten Stories of 2013 -- Part One; The Ombuds Blog Top Ten Stories of 2013 -- Part Two; The Ombuds Blog Top Ten Stories of 2013 -- Part Three
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