Skip to content

What is the origin of the term "Ombuds" and the profession?

The position of ombudsman was originally created in Sweden in the 1800s. The Swedish Parliament appointed an ombudsman to resolve difficult problems in the absence of the country's abducted king. In more recent times, ombuds programs have been created throughout the world to assist citizens, consumers and employees who wish to address concerns about administrative actions or lack of action. In the United States, the various types of ombuds functions are utilized in state and local governments, nursing homes, the media, colleges and universities, corporations, prisons and agencies of the federal government.

Eastern Montana College was the first educational institution in the United States to appoint an ombudsperson in 1966. In 1967, Michigan State University became the first major U.S. university to establish an ombuds office. During the period of nationwide campus unrest in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of universities established ombuds programs in an attempt to respond to demands for a neutral, confidential and safe place to discuss concerns and voice complaints. It is now estimated that more than 200 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada have established ombuds offices. The majority of the University of California campuses have ombuds programs, some of which started as early as 1969. While today's organizational ombudspersons no longer conduct formal investigations, they do work to help employees find constructive ways to resolve work-related conflict, disputes and problems. It is an ombudsperson's role to listen, understand, coach, inform, strategize, problem solve, refer, mediate and provide upward feedback as appropriate.

Ombuds history excerpted from the University and College Ombuds Association handbook.