Principles of Practice

In addition to being informed by the International Ombudsman Association Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, the Office of the Ombuds at Washington University follows four fundamental principles:

Confidentiality

  • Strict confidentiality is essential to the function of the Ombuds and helps create a safe place for visitors to voice concerns, evaluate issues, and identify options.
  • The Ombuds does not disclose the identity of visitors to the office or the content of conversations unless permission has been given to do so.
  • If a visitor has given permission to do so, the Ombuds may disclose information to other offices or individuals whose help is necessary to explore or resolve a problem.
  • Even with the permission of the visitor, the Ombuds will not disclose documents, or testify, attend, or participate in formal proceedings.
  • A visitor’s confidential disclosure to the Ombuds is strictly off-the-record and does not constitute a formal report of wrongdoing. Thus, conversations with the Ombuds do not constitute notice to the School of Medicine of any claims a visitor may have; any concerns about the School of Medicine’s compliance with laws, regulations or policies; or any questionable practices at the School of Medicine. Moreover, such conversations do not suspend or extend any time limits by which notice of claims must be provided to the School of Medicine.
  • The School of Medicine will make every effort to protect the confidentiality of the Office. The School of Medicine will not ask the Ombuds to testify on the School of Medicine’s behalf in internal or external proceedings and will take appropriate steps to protect the Ombuds from subpoena by others.
  • The only exceptions to confidentiality arise when there appears to be an imminent risk of serious physical harm or when a court orders disclosure of information, despite the School of Medicine’s efforts to maintain the confidentiality of communications with the Ombuds Office.

Independence

  • The Office functions outside existing administrative structures and reports directly to the Dean of the School of Medicine only for administrative and budgetary purposes.
  • The Ombuds neither compels other offices to take specific action nor receives compulsory orders about how to approach a particular issue.
  • The Office complements but does not duplicate existing grievance procedures and compliance channels such as Human Resources, the School of Medicine’s Faculty Rights Committee, the Advisory Committee on Tenure and Academic Freedom, the Sexual Harassment Response Coordinators, the Washington University Police, the Washington University chapter of the American Association of University Professors, or the Research Integrity Officer.
  • The Ombuds has no authority to establish, change, or set aside any School of Medicine rule or policy, nor may the Ombuds override the decisions of School of Medicine officials.
  • The Ombuds has access to all School of Medicine officials and records as needed to carry out the functions of the Office.
  • The Ombuds takes all steps to avoid conflicts of interest, whether actual or perceived.

Impartiality / Neutrality

  • The Ombuds seeks to provide objective assessments of concerns brought to the Ombuds office.
  • Maintaining a neutral position, the Ombuds is an advocate for equity, fair process, and the fair administration of process. The Ombuds does not, however, take sides on behalf of any individual, cause, or dispute.
  • The Ombuds takes into consideration the rights of all parties, as well as the welfare of the School of Medicine and the School of Medicine community.

Informality

  • The Ombuds provides informal, off-the record assistance only.
  • The Ombuds maintains only anonymous, aggregate data. Formal records are not created, nor are personally identifiable documents preserved. Informal notes may be temporarily created only insofar as they are necessary for case management.
  • The Ombuds has no authority to accept legal notice or make decisions on behalf of the University. For those wishing to go on-record, the Ombuds makes referrals to appropriate formal channels so that visitors may make informed choices about which process is best for them to pursue.
  • The Ombuds may request data from and explore a concern with School of Medicine officials. However, the Ombuds does not conduct formal investigations or participate in formal actions. The following are also outside the purview of the Office: adjudicating cases, acting as an advocate or witness in any case inside or outside the School of Medicine; keeping case records for the School of Medicine; assessing wrongdoing or innocence; determining sanctions; and making, changing, or setting aside any rule, policy, or administrative decision.