Q&A

Services/General Question

The Office of the Ombudsman share several important features with other services, namely confidentiality, high sensitivity and very experienced, highly trained professionals.

The Office of the University Ombudsman is staffed by an organizational Ombudsman with extensive experience in conflict management and alternative dispute resolution. The Ombudsman can help you evaluate just about any kind of concern you may have as a student at GMU.

The Office of the Ombudsman is an entirely voluntary service and you are never required to contact the Ombudsman before seeking the assistance of other programs. If you are not sure which other programs may be available to help you resolve a particular issue or concern, you may visit the Ombudsman, who can discuss your concerns with you, consider possible options and approaches, and identify other resources.

Our process is informal and always initiated by the visitors to the office. We emphasize developing strategies you can use, before you decide it’s necessary to use one of George Mason’s formal administrative processes. If you aren’t sure where to take your concern, the Office of the Ombudsman is a safe place to start. Working with us is off the record, which can make talking about concerns a lot less intimidating for the visitors to the office. The services provided by the Ombudsman are designed to complement rather than replace other services, such as formal processes. We are an informal and confidential resource to help students evaluate their options and identify available resources, and help them navigate the University.

No. The Ombudsman does not provide any type of legal advice or services (or psychological treatment and services). As a part of an independent and impartial Office, the Ombudsman may refer you to available resources when appropriate. As an informal and confidential service, it will refrain from participating in any formal processes.

The short answer to this question is “no”. However, if we must turn people away, we will do so gently: as a matter of courtesy, and because one of the roles of the Ombudsman is to educate the campus community about the Office of the Ombudsman, when faculty and/or staff seek assistance, they are directed to resources at George Mason where they can get assistance, and we explain the services we provide, so that more people are aware of the Office and may direct students there in the future. The Ombudsman is never involved in any issues involving faculty and staff, unless it is directly related to a student Concern.

The Office of the Ombudsman primarily serves currently enrolled undergraduate, graduate, and non-degree students.

Confidentiality

Confidentiality applies to most conversations and is a long-established practice. The main exception is when, in the judgment of the Ombudsman, there is an immediate threat or risk of serious physical harm to yourself or to anyone. In other instances, the Ombudsman may discuss identifying information with another party after receiving verbal consent from a visitor in order to assist in resolving an issue or answering specific questions.

Confidentiality belongs to the Office of the Ombudsman and cannot be waived by anyone else. For example, a person who consults with the Ombudsman should not expect him/her to testify or participate in any formal proceeding. Confidentiality belongs to the Office and not to the users of the Office.  In a safe, confidential setting, the students have the freedom to talk about especially sensitive situations that they may not yet be comfortable sharing with others.

Yes. Unless there is imminent risk of serious physical harm, we will not share any information with anyone. Confidentiality belongs to the Office of the Ombudsman and cannot be waived by anyone else. Please be reminded that the confidentiality of e-mail cannot be guaranteed, which is why we do not conduct Ombudsman business over email. It is fine to use email to set up an appointment, but please do not include sensitive, or confidential information if you use email.

Informality

Yes. While the Ombudsman is not authorized to participate in any formal proceedings, the Ombudsman can help you better understand processes and potential outcomes before you decide whether to use a formal process. The Ombudsman can also help identify alternatives to formal options, and direct you to the appropriate office, if that is an option you prefer.

No, the Ombudsman operates informally. The office does not duplicate existing processes or other formal channels available. The Ombudsman may look into whether proper procedures were followed, and bring to the attention of those in leadership inadequacies and gaps in existing procedures.

Neutrality

No. The Ombudsman is not allowed to assist in any matter that is the subject of a formal process including, but not limited to, University processes – such as grade appeals, for example – or any administrative or legal action. All communications with the Ombudsman are made with the understanding that they are confidential, off the record, and that no one will be called to testify as a witness in any formal or legal proceeding. The Ombudsman will maintain the confidentiality of all meetings and communications and will assert any and all legal protections to maintain that confidentiality. The Ombudsman reserves the right to uphold confidentiality even when the person using the services of the Office requests disclosure.

No. The Office of the Ombudsman is a confidential resource on campus. We will not disclose that you came to see us or the content of any discussion. We will resist testifying or serving as a witness, and We will not agree to participate in any formal proceeding.

The Ombudsman will advise you of your rights within George Mason University’s structure but will not provide legal advice. The Ombudsman will resist testifying in any formal hearing (judicial or administrative) about concerns brought to his/her attention.

No, the Ombudsman is independent and neutral and does not take sides on behalf or any individuals or cause. Accordingly, the Ombudsman is not a substitute for anyone’s lawyer, representative, or Counselor. Working with the Ombudsman may help you address your issues or concerns more effectively, but contacting the Ombudsman does not constitute giving notice to the University about anything.

The Ombudsman will help the visitor identify the appropriate resources.

No. The Ombudsman does not take sides. Because one of the core operating principles of the Office of the Ombudsman is neutrality, the Ombudsman is not a student advocate or representative. However, the Ombudsman is not an advocate for the University or any other related party, either. The Ombudsman works to explore informal solutions in an impartial manner, in effort to find a satisfactory resolution to the concern.

The Office of the Ombudsman will not participate or intervene informal processes. It is important to remember that the Ombudsman is an informal resource and is not a part of the typical University structure.

Without becoming involved in an ongoing formal University process, however, the Ombudsman can provide guidance on formal procedures, such as providing information on pertinent policies, appeal options, and assisting with understanding procedural outcomes.

The Ombudsman will not discuss any matter that involves pending litigation, or where the contact person has legal representation.

Once a formal process has ended, the Ombudsman may assist any interested individuals or groups with improving communication and working relationships.

Notice

No. Neither informing the Ombudsman in person or in writing about a concern constitutes notice to the University. Contacting the office is not a step in any formal process. Anyone who wishes to “put the University on notice” should contact an administrator or invoke a formal process. The Ombudsman can provide referral information about whom to contact.

The Ombudsman can receive information in confidence and is not obligated to report what is disclosed. The exceptions to confidentiality are imminent risk of serious harm to yourself or anyone. Disclosures of child or elder abuse are considered imminent risk of serious physical harm by the Ombudsman at GMU.

An office of record may be obligated to conduct a formal investigation once given notice of a matter, or a concern. The Office of the Ombudsman is not bound by this obligation. In short, by coming to the Office of the Ombudsman, the visitor has control over what he or she discloses and can decide how he/she wants to handle the matter.  The office keeps no documents or records that identify visitors to the office.

As an independent, impartial, confidential, and informal Office, disclosures or complaints made to the Office of the Ombudsman do not constitute notice to the University. If a visitor wishes to give notice regarding specific incidents, he/she may wish to discuss with the Ombudsman what options are available to provide effective notice to the University. However, the Office of the Ombudsman is not considered an agent of notice for the University and generally may not receive notice on behalf of it.

Ombudsman Independance

The Ombudsman is, indeed, paid by George Mason University, but the University accepts and agrees that the Ombudsman will follow a Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice that requires him/her to maintain confidentiality except in cases of “imminent risk of serious physical harm.”

The Ombudsman follows the same rules as other GMU employees as to vacation time, job duties, behaving in a professional manner, etc., but is not part of the GMU administration. The Ombudsman is free from any influence in addressing issues and assisting students with informal problem solving. The fact that the Ombudsman works outside of the formal channels means a person can raise a concern without starting a formal process or going on record.