The fifth annual survey of the top stories about Organizational Ombuds.

10. Precedent Avoided -- In settling a wrongful termination lawsuit in October, the University of Iowa avoided a direct challenge to the confidentiality of its Ombuds Office.  The plaintiff in the case explicity sought to depose the University's Ombudsman. The University's attorney, the State Attorney General, refused and asserted that the Ombuds has a duty of confidentiality.  But for the settlement, the issued would have been resolved by the court.

9. New Offices Continue to Open -- This story seems to make the list every year. And yet, every year the number of new programs far outnumbers the closures. Here is a list of the Ombuds offices that opened in 2015 (in roughly chronological order): Oslo and Akershus University CollegeNortheast Ohio Medical UniversityUniversity of Utah Health SciencesRowan UniversityUniversity of South Florida (reopened)University of VermontUniversity of JohannesburgEuropean Molecular Biology LaboratoryUniversity of StavangerOle MissAlliance of Divine Love Church; Defense Intelligence Agency; University of TromsøCal MaritimeWashington University in St. Louis (staff)Mississippi State UniversityGrand Valley State UniversityDarton State CollegeMidwestern UniversityNorth Carolina State University (faculty); and Norwegian School of Economics.

8. Holocaust Claims Conference Ombuds Goes Public After Termination -- In early 2012, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany names Shmuel Hollander as its first Ombudsman. Hollander had an impressive resume, having worked for Israeli Prime Ministers, and it was hoped that his appointment would address long-standing complaints that the Claims Conference was culpable of mismanagement and fraud. Shmuel was fired in 2015 after reporting detailing the embezzlement of tens of millions funds. Even after his firing, which he claimed was retaliatory, Shmuel continued to tell the press about “systematic failings and problematic organization behavior.”

7. ENOHE Takes on New Initiatives -- In its twelfth year, the European Network of Ombudsmen in Higher Education took two bold steps to assrts its relevance as a professional organization. During its largest conference in May, ENOHE members adopted a motion endorsing "the cardinal principles of operational independence of university ombudsmen and their legitimate protection from arbitrary dismissal." Later in the year, the organization helped survey campus Ombuds about the diversity of their practice.

6. Rise of Scandinavian Ombuds -- The number of Ombuds programs in Norway and Sweden seemed to reach a tipping point this year. In addition to Lund Unviersity (which appointed its Ombuds in 2013), new Ombuds were appointed at the University of OsloOslo and Akershus UniversityUniversity of StavangerUniversity of TromsøUniversity of Bergen, and the Norwegian School of Economics. In addition, Buskerud and Vestfold University College, Bergen University College, and the University of Trondheim are all considering Student Ombuds programs.  A regional meeting happened in September and is expected to become an annual event.

5.  Senator Pressures Red Cross Ombuds -- Sen. Charles Grassley, who had lead the reform efforts that created the Corporate Ombudsman office at the American Red Cross, sought to compel disclosure of Ombuds records as part of his inquiry into spending on Haiti relief.  It was clear that the Senator did not understand the unique role of an Organizational Ombuds.  Fortunately, the IOA Board and other Ombuds spoke up in defense of the Red Cross. 

4.  Loss of Ombuds Becomes an Issue at Dalhousie -- Early in the year, the graduate dentistry program at Dalhousie University was roiled by protests after violent, misogynistic comments directed at female students on social media.  For many commentators, the issue highlighted the lack of an Ombuds program (the University had closed it in 2012) and other resources for victims of discrimination.  Eventually, a Dalhousie task force recommended the reinstatement of an Ombuds, but there has been no progress yet.

3. University of California Shields Ombuds in Title IX Matters -- For several years, Ombuds in American higher education have wrestled with the evolving rules and regulations surrounding sexual misconduct.  Many worried that new standards would strip Ombuds of their ability to offer confidential consultations.  Although a few institutions declared all employees to be agents of notice (and thus not confidential), including Ombuds, the trend began to shift in favor of protecting Ombuds.  In July, the huge, ten-campus UC system revised its sexual misconduct policies and specifically protected the confidentiality of disclosures made to any of its Ombuds.  This may lead other universities to follow suit.

2. Canadian Academic Ombuds Publish Guide to Fairness --  The concept of fairness as central concern is one of the salient differences between most Canadian and most U.S.-based Ombuds programs. In May, the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons published a new collection of information from its members: "Fairness is Everyone’s Concern: A Sampling of Practices and Resources on Cultivating Fairness." This new guide is an important resource for any Ombuds seeking insights on this issue. It is also the latest effort by ACCUO to document and explain Ombuds practices.

1. Realtors Go All In On Ombuds Scheme -- After a few years of local success, the National Association of REALTORS® decided that all of its state and local associations must have Ombudsman programs in place by January 1, 2016.   With one fell swoop, there are now hundreds of new Ombuds practicing across the U.S. However and despite thesimilarities between the NAR Ombuds and IOA models (both are informal, impartial, confidential) closely tracked the IOA Code of Ethics, there has been no collaboration between the two organizations. Moreover, most Realtor Ombudsmen are not trained by, or are members of, IOA. It's almost as if the NAR and IOA are deliberately ignoring each other.

Read more about the profession at the Ombuds Blog.

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