CHARTER FOR THE GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY
OFFICE OF THE UNIVERSITY OMBUDSPERSON
The Office of the University Ombudsperson (“Ombuds Office”) for George Mason University (“University”) was established in 2022 to provide an independent, informal, impartial*, and confidential resource to help foster an environment of respect, honesty, fairness, and integrity and to bolster a supportive working and learning climate at the University. The Ombuds Office is available to the University's faculty, staff, students, and others who are involved with the University, including but not limited to alumni, family members, applicants, patrons, etc., as the University Ombudsperson ("Ombuds") deems appropriate.
* Impartial – Neutral, nonaligned, and nonpartisan are synonymous terms that may appear in the place of neutral in this document to signal a professional commitment on the part of Ombuds to hear each party with new ears and to respect the dignity, agency, and capacity of individuals regardless of background, experience, identity, or personal allegiances.
People who seek to utilize the services of the Ombuds Office are referred to as "visitors". When a visitor seeks assistance from the Ombuds, the Ombuds can listen, serve as a strategic thought partner, help the visitor develop options to resolve conflict or to surface an issue, provide resources and information about University policies and systems, and otherwise assist the visitor with informal conflict resolution and problem solving. In each case, the Ombuds provide support that is independent, confidential, nonaligned, and informal. The Ombuds Office also elevates systemic trends (patterns and anomalies) or concerns, without breaching confidentiality, to the attention of the University's leadership to improve the fairness and effectiveness of its programs and administration at a systems level.
The Ombuds Office facilitates communication and assists individuals and entities in forging mutually acceptable pathways forward that are consistent with the Mission and Core Values of the University, which it has articulated as follows:
George Mason University is a public, comprehensive, research university established by the Commonwealth of Virginia in the National Capital Region, we are an innovative and inclusive academic community committed to creating a more just, free, and prosperous world.
Our students come first: Our top priority is to provide students with a transformational learning experience that helps them grow as individuals, scholars, and professionals.
Diversity is our strength: We include and embrace a multitude of people and ideas in everything we do and respect differences.
Innovation is our tradition: We strive to find new and better ways to deliver on our mission while honoring time-tested academic values.
We honor freedom of thought and expression: We protect the freedom of all members of our community to seek truth and express their views.
We are careful stewards: We manage the economic and natural resources entrusted to us responsibly and sustainably.
We act with integrity: We hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards as educators, scholars, students and professionals.
We thrive together: We nurture a positive and collaborative community that contributes to the well-being and success of every member.
The Ombuds Office is the sole resource authorized by the University to serve in an ombuds capacity at the University. This Charter document defines the terms, conditions, and principles on which the Ombuds Office has been established and describes the privileges, responsibilities, and authority of the Office of the University Ombudsperson.
II. RELATIONSHIP TO THE UNIVERSITY
The Ombuds Office is an informal and supplemental resource at the University that reports directly to the Office of the University President via the Chief of Staff. The Ombuds have access to relevant individuals and information within the organization as necessary to fulfill their informal role and as permitted by law.
III. CORE VALUES AND FUNDAMENTAL PRINCIPLES OF THE OMBUDS OFFICE
All Ombuds in the Ombuds Office shall be members of the International Ombuds Association ("IOA") and adhere to the Core Values and Fundamental Principles articulated in the IOA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, which are incorporated by reference in this Charter and are available on the IOA website. The Code of Ethics articulates the Core Values essential to the work of an ombuds and the Fundamental Principles (Independence, Impartiality, Informality, and Confidentiality) that are the essential foundation for organizational ombuds work. Accordingly, the Ombuds Office will function independently and without interference or direction from University administration. The Office will operate confidentially and impartially and limit the scope of its services to informal means of dispute resolution and problem-solving support. The Ombuds will attend regular relevant trainings and conferences whenever possible to sustain professional competence.
The Ombuds will establish and follow consistent policies for the Ombuds Office, which will be posted on the Ombuds Office website. The Ombuds will also publicize the key principles on which the program is based, including the confidential, independent, nonaligned, and informal nature of the Office’s services and will clearly explain each of these Standards of Practice to each visitor.
The Ombuds Office will be, and will endeavor to be perceived as, free from interference in the performance of their duties. The University will not attempt to direct or influence with whom the Ombuds meets and how they manage any given concern. The University will also not attempt to interfere with or control the substance of any recommendations for change that the Ombuds might offer. The independence of the Ombuds Office is accomplished through the University's recognition of it, a reporting structure in which the Ombuds reports to the University President through the Chief of Staff, freedom from direction or interference in the substance of its work, and by being distinct from all other organizational entities. The Ombuds thus holds no other position within the University and has sole discretion over how or whether to address visitors’ concerns.
The Ombuds Office will have a specific allocated budget, adequate space, and sufficient resources to fulfill its role and pursue continuing professional development. The Ombuds will have the authority to manage the budget and operations of the Office of the Ombuds and will report to the Chief of Staff of the Office of the President for administrative and budgetary matters only.
The Ombuds will be a resource for informal dispute resolution and problem-solving services only. The Ombuds will not participate in internal or external formal investigative or adjudicative procedures. The Ombuds will, however, endeavor to provide visitors with information about relevant formal grievance or complaint processes to help educate them about their options. Use of the Ombuds Office is voluntary and will not be a required step in any grievance process or University policy.
The Ombuds will strive for impartiality, nonalignment and fairness in consideration of all visitors to the Office and the issues they raise. The Ombuds will operate with the aim of supporting all visitors and parties in the most effective way possible and will facilitate communication and problem-solving in a way that does not take sides or favor a particular outcome.
The Ombuds will avoid involvement in any matter in which their private interests, real or perceived, may conflict with their ability to be truly impartial and independent in their role. To avoid such conflicts in the first place, the Ombuds will not serve as a voting member on University committees, will not participate in adjudication processes, and will not serve in a formal policy making capacity, except regarding Ombuds Office policies. If a potential conflict of interest nonetheless exists, the Ombuds will take all steps necessary to disclose the potential conflict and/or remove the conflict. If it is not possible to sufficiently address a conflict of interest in a case, the Ombuds will recuse themselves from involvement in it.
Confidentiality is the defining characteristic of the Ombuds Office. The identity of those seeking assistance from the Ombuds and all communications with them are confidential as permitted by law.
The Ombuds will hold all communications in strict confidence and will not reveal--and must not be required to reveal--the identity of visitors to the Ombuds Office. The Ombuds will not reveal any information disclosed to them in confidence except in accordance with the IOA Standards of Practice, including not disclosing such information without a visitor’s express permission and then only at the discretion of the Ombuds. The Ombuds may, however, disclose otherwise confidential information if they determine what might be an imminent risk of serious harm. The Ombuds may also, as necessary, disclose information to defend against a formal complaint of professional misconduct.
Because the Office of the Ombuds is a purely voluntary resource that no one is required to use, those who do so will be understood to have agreed to the terms, conditions, and principles upon which it was established and not call on the Ombuds to testify or produce documents relating to confidential communications in any legal, administrative, or other proceedings. The University has also agreed to respect the terms, conditions, and principles on which the Office was created with regard to the Ombuds testifying or voluntarily producing documents relating to confidential communications in any legal, administrative, or other proceedings.
The confidentiality of communications with the Ombuds may not be waived by others. The Ombuds Office will resist any attempts by visitors or third parties to compel disclosure of confidential communications or documents by invoking the terms, conditions, and principles of this Charter and by asserting a claim of confidentiality under any applicable rule or statute under which confidential communications may be protected, including where applicable, rules or statutes dealing with mediation and other methods of alternative dispute resolution.
The Ombuds will not create permanent written records nor maintain notes with identifying information on behalf of the organization. The Ombuds will keep any temporary case-related information (e.g., notes, phone messages, appointment calendars) in a secure location and manner, protected from inspection by others and will have a consistent and standard practice for the regular destruction of such information. The Ombuds will prepare any data or reports to be shared with the University or otherwise made public in ways that protect visitor confidentiality. The Ombuds and the University will cooperate with each other to implement policies and practices to protect the confidentiality of visitor identities and Ombuds' confidential communications.
IV. AUTHORITY AND LIMITATIONS
- The Ombuds Office has sole discretion over whether or how to engage regarding individual, group, or systemic concerns.
- Acting on their own initiative, Ombuds may bring concerns to the attention of appropriate individuals.
- The Ombuds Office does not advocate for any person or the University.
- The Ombuds have no authority to make or overturn business or policy decisions; adjudicate issues; participate in, testify at, or produce documents relating to confidential communications in disciplinary or grievance processes or other administrative or legal proceedings, or conduct formal investigations for the University.
- The Ombuds Office does not provide legal advice or psychological counseling. The Ombuds have no authority to serve as an advocate, lawyer, representative, or counselor for any party in a dispute, nor will they represent University management or visitors to the Office. Rather, the Ombuds will advocate for fair processes, respectful treatment, and equitable policies.
- The Ombuds Office supplements, but does not replace, the University's existing formal resources for reporting issues, conflict resolution, and systems of review and adjudication.
- Ombuds are not authorized to serve as agents of the University to receive notice of claims, complaints, or grievances against the University unless specifically and expressly required by law. The staff members of the University Ombuds Office are designated as confidential employees per University Policy Number 1202. Because the Ombuds Office is independent, informal, and confidential, communication with the Ombuds or the Ombuds Office does not constitute notice to the University. This includes allegations that may be perceived as violations of laws, regulations, or policies, including sexual harassment or incidents subject to reporting under the Clery Act or Title IX. Visitors may discuss such issues in confidence with the Ombuds. Employees of the Ombuds Office are “Confidential Employees” for purposes of Title IX and Policy 1202. For Clery Act statistical purposes, the Ombuds will anonymously report aggregate data per University Policy Number 1412.
- Important rights may be affected by when formal action is initiated and when the University is informed of allegedly inappropriate or wrongful conduct, and while working with the Ombuds may address a problem or concern effectively, it may not protect the rights of the person contacting the Ombuds Office. If a visitor to the Ombuds Office wants to put a concern “on the record,” wants to put the University on notice regarding a specific situation, or file a formal complaint or grievance with the University, the Ombuds will provide the visitor with appropriate information so that the visitor may do so themselves in an appropriate manner.
- The Ombuds Office is not authorized to discuss with or advise any visitor on issues arising from their rights as classified employees subject to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s grievance procedures, including interpretation of any grievance procedures. Ombuds may advise or direct any visitors with such issues or questions to resources where they can seek information on policies or procedures relating to such issues and where they can file a grievance related to those rights. The Ombuds may otherwise provide services to classified employees.
V. RECORDS AND CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION
- The Ombuds creates no permanent records containing confidential information.
- The Ombuds Office may maintain generic data related to the general categories of visitors who seek assistance from the Ombuds Office. Generic data may be used for general purposes such as annual reports.
- Notes taken as a temporary memory aid to support informal work with a visitor to address open matters will be kept in the sole possession of the Ombuds and will be kept in a secure manner and location until destroyed.
- The Ombuds Office has a consistent practice for the timely destruction of confidential information.
The Ombuds may provide non-confidential information about the Ombuds Office in any appropriate forum, including but not limited to the annual December and January meetings of the board of visitors and the faculty senate respectively.
VII. INTERFERENCE WITH USE OF THE OMBUDS OFFICE AND RETALIATION
Because the Ombuds Office is intended to be a confidential resource, it is not appropriate for the University administration or others to inquire about an individual’s use of the Office or any communication that may have taken place there. Furthermore, discouraging or preventing eligible visitors from using the Ombuds Office is inappropriate because it is contrary to the University’s intention to provide the Office as a resource for early and informal management and resolution of conflicts and surfacing of issues.
While the University supports and encourages use of the Office, an individual’s use of the Ombuds Office must always be completely voluntary. It is acceptable to remind individuals that the Ombuds Office is available as an option or a resource, but no one may be ordered or required to visit the Office, nor may an individual be punished for not visiting it.
All people served by the Ombuds Office shall have the right to consult the Ombuds without fear of retaliation or reprisal. Retaliation against anyone for consulting with the Office or against the Ombuds for actions within the legitimate scope of their duties as described in the Charter is prohibited.
VIII. REVOCATION OR REVISION OF CHARTERING DOCUMENT
This Charter remains in effect unless the University President revokes it, and such revocation shall be provided in writing to the Ombuds. Any revision to this Charter shall be subject to the approval of the University President after conferring with the University Ombudsperson.
The authority of the Ombuds Office derives from the University administration as manifested by the endorsement of the University President on this Charter.
Note: Copies of the signed document are retained in the Office of the President and the Office of the University Ombudsperson. This page has been published for the education of the University Community. Minor edits were made to the formatting of the information in this document to comply with web accessibility standards.