Ombuds Office

The Ombuds Office is a resource for helping members of our community explore options for resolving problematic issues.

The Ombuds Office serves as an independent, confidential, neutral, and informal resource for faculty, staff, and student members of the Wellesley College community. 

The office assists in navigating workplace and living/learning community disputes and provides off-the-record guidance about policies, procedures, challenging issues, and difficult conversations.

The ombudsperson will listen carefully and work with individuals to clarify interests and goals, strategize about handling problematic situations, provide information about College policy, and assist with both written and verbal communication. She is also able to facilitate conversations. In all situations, she will seek processes and resolutions that are equitable to all parties.

If the parties request that a conversation be facilitated or a matter be mediated, with a goal of reaching an agreed-upon solution with the assistance of a neutral person, the ombudsperson can serve in that capacity. Additionally, the ombudsperson can provide mediation training to campus groups and committees.

The Ombuds Office will not identify its visitors or discuss identified concerns with anyone without the visitors’ permission, with two exceptions:

  1. If the ombudsperson determines that there is an imminent risk of serious harm to a visitor or another person.

  2. If the ombudsperson is legally compelled to do so via subpoena; then, and only then, will the matter not remain confidential.

The office abides by the Standards of Practice of the International Ombuds Association.

Please note that the Ombuds Office is not a substitute or alternative office for reports of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, which should be reported to the Title IX office: Janet Elie Faulkner at titleix@wellesley.edu or 781-283-2451, Schneider Center 214. 

The Ombuds office is not a reporting authority and therefore is not considered “on notice” for purposes of reporting harassment, research misconduct, or any other allegations of legal and/or policy breaches. Therefore, confidentiality requests will be honored for any visitor who wishes to share information about sexual assault.

Ombuds - Content

JanetOmbudsperson
Kathryn Bender
ombuds@wellesley.edu
781-283-3385
Location: Clapp Library, Room 301

Kathryn Bender serves as the ombudsperson for the College. A graduate of Meredith College, Columbia University, and Suffolk Law School, she has a deep understanding of dispute resolution in the college setting for all sectors of the campus. Kathryn has taught at the undergraduate, MBA, and law school levels, worked in student affairs, and served as in-house counsel at private and public universities. She currently heads her own dispute resolution consulting firm, which focuses on issues of conflict at colleges and universities.

Kathryn is generally available to meet with community members on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, or by appointment. She is available to speak to groups, classes, and others about any issue related to dispute resolution, communication, consensus building, and collaboration including offering training in meditation and dispute resolution skills.

 

The ombudsperson will listen carefully and work with individuals on various topics of discussion.

For many, the Ombuds Office will be a safe and confidential first step to addressing a problem on campus. For others, contacting the office may occur later in the resolution process of a concern.

The following are examples of some appropriate concerns that you may bring to the Ombuds:

  • Academic freedom; Apologies; Authorship
  • Cultural misunderstandings; Conflict of interest
  • Educational/professional integrity; Ethics/Whistle blowing
  • Favoritism; Fear of retaliation; Formal processes for resolving issues
  • Harassment; Health and safety concerns
  • Interpersonal difficulties; Incivility
  • Misconduct:  Professional, academic and/or scientific/research
  • Peer relations; Personality conflicts/meanness/incivility; Protecting your reputation
  • Responding to targeted and/or hurtful remarks
  • Sexual harassment (ombuds serves as a confidential resource, for reporting, contact the TitleIX coordinator)
  • Unprofessional conduct; Untangling a complicated interpersonal situation
  • Violations of College policy, procedure, values
  • Working conditions and concerns

Types of programs/workshops that can be provided:

  • Crucial Conversations 
  • Effective Communication
  • Joint Problem Solving
  • Resolving Individual and Group Disagreements
  • Creating a Climate of Collaborative Communication
  • Respect and Civility in the Workplace; Ending Abrasive Behavior in the Workplace
  • Giving and Receiving Feed-Back
  • Email and Conflict Escalation

Facilitation of Meetings is also offered, whether it is a facilitated conversation between two people or one of two or more groups.

Restorative Justice is an approach to healing where the accuser and accused have a discussion about how the accuser feels wronged and the accused offers apology/explanation/remorse for the wrong.

As appropriate, the Ombuds Office provides feedback to College officials regarding systemic problems and trends and publishes official annual reports for the campus community with general data regarding conflict areas and recommendations for change. These reports are prepared with data that protects the identity, specific issues and confidentiality of all visitors/departments.

For more information about the scope and guiding principles of the Ombuds Office, see the terms of reference

The ombudsperson is a resource for faculty, staff, and student members of the Wellesley College community.

The Ombuds will:

  • Listen to the visitor's concerns, answer questions, and provide information and referrals to help them explore options in order to resolve concerns most effectively
  • Explain college policies and procedures and the roles and functions of respective offices
  • Work with the visitor on improving communication skills to manage conflict more effectively
  • Provide management or leadership coaching to supervisors, department chairs, administrators, etc.
  • Facilitate communications between and among individuals or groups
  • Provide reports to campus leaders about systemic trends and general issues of ongoing concern
  • Refer visitors to appropriate offices for formal complaint resolution options
  • Serve as a resource to committees, groups and individuals for conflict and communication assistance
  • Make recommendations for institutional improvements
  • Mediate conflicts between individuals or groups (voluntarily)
  • Provide conflict management, communication skills, mediation, and other types of training.

The Ombuds will not:

  • Make decisions or findings of fact
  • Establish, change, or set aside policies
  • Offer legal advice
  • Offer psychological counseling
  • Participate in grievances or other formal processes
  • Investigate complaints
  • Serve as an agent of notice for the College
  • Serve as an advocate for any individual or department
  • Supersede the authority of other college officials
  • Testify in any formal proceedings on campus; testify in court proceedings unless subpoenaed 

Ethical tenets

The Campus Ombuds is a member of the International Ombudsman Association, and practices in accordance with its Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. Other guidance is provided by laws and policies, especially policies promulgated by Wellesley College. 

The Ombuds follows four ethical tenets which are absolute and non-negotiable, and belong to the Ombuds Office rather than the visitor:

Confidentiality

The Ombuds does not keep records for the College, and will not disclose the names or concerns of its visitors.  The only exceptions are when the Ombuds believes there is an imminent risk of physical harm or if a legal subpoena is received. The Ombuds, similarly, will not disclose the visitor’s department or program.

Independence

To ensure objectivity, the Ombuds is not aligned with any academic or administrative department. The Ombuds reports directly to the College President only for administrative and budgetary matters.

Neutrality

The Ombuds does not take sides in any dispute, but rather advocates for fair process and equitable results.

Informality

The Ombuds does not arbitrate, adjudicate, or participate in formal procedures. If a visitor would like to pursue a formal process, the Ombuds will direct them to the appropriate Wellesley College office. The Ombuds Office does not accept notice on behalf of the College.

The Ombuds Office keeps anonymous aggregate statistics of the types of concerns received in the office and periodically conveys perceived issues and trends to senior administrators. Again, this is done without disclosure of any individual, department, discipline and/or office to anyone.