The Office of the Ombuds at the University of California, Merced was established in 2011.This Charter Agreement (signed by Chancellor Dorothy Leland in 2012) defines the privileges and responsibilities of the Ombudsperson and the Office of the Ombuds:
PURPOSE AND SCOPE OF SERVICES
The Office provides informal dispute resolution services to UC Merced faculty, staff, lecturers, postdoctoral researchers and anyone with University-related concerns. The Office is a place where members of the University community can seek guidance regarding disputes or concerns at no cost and at any stage in the resolution process.
The Office confidentially receives complaints, concerns, or questions about alleged acts, omissions, improprieties, and/or broader systemic problems. The response of the Office is tailored to the dynamics of the situation and the visitor's concerns. The Ombuds listens, makes informal inquiries or otherwise reviews matters received, offers resolution options, makes referrals, and mediates disputes independently and impartially. Services of the Office supplement, but do not replace, other processes (formal or informal) available to the University community.
The Ombuds provides feedback to the University when trends, patterns, policies, or procedures of the University generate concerns or conflicts. In addition, the Ombuds serves as an information and communication resource, consultant, mediator, dispute resolution expert, and catalyst for institutional change for the University.
STANDARDS OF PRACTICE AND CODE OF ETHICS
The Ombuds and Office of the Ombuds practices under the International Ombuds Association ("IOA") Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. This Charter adopts and incorporates by reference the IOA Standards of Practice, IOA Code of Ethics, and IOA Best Practices. The Office functions independently of other organizational entities, is confidential and impartial, and limits the scope of services to informal means of dispute resolution. The Ombuds is a member of IOA and will attend IOA conferences and training as they are available and included in the annual budget. The IOA Standards, Code, and Best Practices are minimum standards, and the Office strives to operate to best practices in a way that serves the interests of the University community, including adhering to the "Declaration of Best Practices for University of California Ombuds Offices."
The Office publicizes the confidential, neutral, informal and independent nature of its services and explains these ethical standards to each visitor.
The Office will not confirm communicating with any party or disclose any confidential information without the party's express permission and even with that permission, any communication will be at the sole discretion of the Office. The Office may disclose confidential information if and when there is a perceived imminent risk of physical harm.
The Office will assert that it holds a privilege with respect to the identity of visitors and their issues. Therefore, the Office will not participate in any formal process inside or outside the University, even if given permission by a visitor who has initiated a formal process.
The Office will be neutral in its activities, and will not take sides in any conflict, dispute, or issue. The Ombuds will impartially consider the interests and concerns of all parties involved in a situation with the aim of facilitating communication and assisting the parties in reaching mutually acceptable agreements that are fair, equitable, and consistent with the mission and policies of the University.
The Office will avoid involvement in matters where there may be a conflict of interest. (A conflict of interest occurs when the Ombuds' private interests, real or perceived, supersede or compete with their dedication to the neutral and independent role of the Office.) When a conflict of interest exists, the Ombuds will take all steps necessary to disclose and/or avoid the conflict.
The Office will be a resource for informal dispute resolution only. The Office will not formally investigate, arbitrate, adjudicate or in any other way participate in any internal or external formal process or action. Use of the Office will be voluntary and not a required step in any grievance process or University policy.
The Office will be, and appear to be, free from interference in the performance of its duties. This independence is affected primarily through organizational recognition, reporting structure, and neutrality. The Office will operate independently of ordinary line and staff structures. The Ombuds will exercise sole discretion over whether and how to act regarding individual matters or systemic concerns.
To fulfill its functions, the Office will have a specific allocated budget, adequate space, and sufficient resources to meet operating needs and pursue continuing professional development. The Ombuds will have the authority to manage the budget and operations of the Office and will report to the Office of the Chancellor regarding administrative and budgetary matters only.
AUTHORITY AND LIMITS OF THE OMBUDS
The authority of the Ombuds derives from the University administration as manifest by the endorsement of the Chancellor.
Authority of the Office
Initiating Informal Inquiries
The Office will be entitled to inquire informally about any issue concerning the University and affecting any member of the University community. Therefore, the Office may initiate informal inquiries into matters that come to its attention without having received a specific complaint from an affected member of the University community.
Access to Information
The Office may request access to information related to visitors' concerns from files and offices of the University. Campus individuals who are contacted by the Office with requests for information are expected to cooperate and, as much as possible, to provide appropriate information as requested. University departments are expected to respond with reasonable promptness to requests made by the Office.
Ending Involvement in Matters
The Office may withdraw from or decline to look into a matter if he/she believes involvement would be inappropriate for any reason, at any time.
Discussions with Visitors and Others
The Office has the authority to discuss a range of options available to its visitors, including both informal and formal processes. The Office may make any recommendations it deems appropriate with regard to resolving problems or improving policies, rules, or procedures. However, the Office will have no actual authority to impose remedies or sanctions or to enforce or change any policy, rule, or procedure.
Access to Legal Counsel
On occasion, the Office may require legal advice or representation in order to fulfill its required functions. The Office may be provided with legal counsel separate and independent from the University in the event it is asked for documents or testimony related to any litigation or other formal process arising out of the Office of the Ombuds activities.
Limitations on the Authority of the Ombuds
Receiving Notice for the University
Communication to the Office will not constitute notice to the University about the existence of a problem. Such communication may include but is not limited to alleged violations of laws, regulations, or policies, such as sexual harassment, issues covered by whlstleblower policy, or incidents subject to reporting under the Clery Act. Although the Office may receive such allegations, it is not a "campus security authority" as defined in the Clery Act, nor is it required to report these allegations to the University. In addition, if the visitor discloses such allegations and expresses a desire to make a formal report, the Office will refer the visitor to the appropriate office(s) for administrative or formal grievance processes.
Putting the University on Notice
If visitors would like to put the University on notice regarding a specific situation or wish information to be provided to the University, the Office will provide the visitors with information so that the visitors may do so themselves.
Formal Processes and Investigations
The Office will not conduct formal investigations of any kind. It will not participate willingly in the substance of any formal dispute processes, outside agency complaints, or lawsuits, either on behalf of a visitor to the Office or on behalf of the University.
Collective Bargaining Agreements
The Office may not inquire (informally or otherwise) into the application or interpretation of a collective bargaining agreement, or into the alleged violation of the duty of fair representation against a certified union.
The Office will not keep records for the University, and will not create or maintain documents or records for the University about individual matters. Notes and any other materials related to a matter will be maintained in a secure location and manner and will be destroyed once the Office concludes its involvement in a matter.
Advocacy for Parties
The Office will not act as an advocate for any party in a dispute, nor will it represent management or visitors to the office.
Adjudication of Issues
The Office will not have authority to adjudicate, impose remedies or sanctions, or enforce or change University policies or rules.
RETALIATION FOR USING THE OFFICE OF THE OMBUDS
The University and its agents will not retaliate against individuals for consulting with the Office.