Monday, June 11, 2007


Tomorrow I meet with the University of Washington's ombudsman. Don't worry, it's nothing serious, and is of my own prerogative. If it is appropriate, I will certainly post more specifics in the future.

Just out of curiosity, does anyone out there have any experience interacting with ombudsmen?

Universities have come to rely on this person as a resource for personal conflict mediation and for processing claims of scientific misconduct (neither is the reason I am meeting with her). One prominent use of ombudsmen is the James Sherely tenure dispute at MIT. I also bet that legislation like the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (HR 985) probably comes to bear on this office. The nature of ombudsmen's work is usually confidential, so it will be interesting to learn more about what the office does.

I figure that at the least, I will come away from our meeting with a better sense of how the ombudsman can factor into the academic structure. And maybe by the end of this I will be able to pronounce ombudsman without twisting my tongue.


Tom Kosakowski said...

I'll be interested to hear your thoughts about the ombuds process.

thomas said...

I met first thing this morning with the UW ombudsman. The experience was a good one. I left her office ebullient.

First, let me remind you of what ombudsmen are: Organizational ombuds provide confidential, independent, neutral and informal dispute resolution resources.
Note that first rule: confidentiality. I have already publicly disclosed the background for this issue, so am comfortable inserting it without the most recent developments into this discussion. I am in the process of writing an extensive summary of my experiences, but may need to wait until everything resolves to publicly reveal the whole story.

I was impressed by how little the ombudsman's input was creative; her approach was much more empathic. I came to the meeting with concrete ideas of how to proceed, but was uncomfortable with the notion that my leading option was one of convenience. I felt as though I am at a fork in the road, but was proceeding forward on a trajectory bisecting two paths. I had not identified a rationale for my proposed action that I was happy with. I was in a sort of wilderness of indefinite ethics.

This is where the ombudsman helped me. I had not considered two very important social and ethical perspectives, the consideration of which forms a strong foundation for my decision.

My situation has the potential for generating conflict, and I presume that if such a course of action had proceeded by this time, my experience with the ombud would have been different.

I know that if I find myself on uncertain relational or ethical footing in the future, the ombudsman is high on the list of consultants that I will seek out.

thomas robey said...

The link describing my battle with the UAW/UW RA/TA Union is to a site that no longer exists. Here is a glimpse that I found on

Is the UW/UAW Local 4121 Graduate Student Union for everyone?As the only graduate or professional student on the panel of contributing editors, I have a unique perspective on what it means to be a member of the academic community. It is with this perspective that I offer the opinion in this piece. Note that I do not intend to represent all graduate students’ perspectives. In fact, I invite others to respond – the outcome I hope is a more perfect union.

Now that I'm no longer in danger of losing my job as a graduate student, I may soon post the whole story here...