Draft Policy: Ombudsperson for Graduate Affairs
February 13, 2001

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Draft Policy Contents:

History and Need
Consideration of an Appointment
Qualities and Responsibilities

Draft Policy:
Ombudsperson for Graduate Affairs

February 13, 2001

History and Need:

The need in the Mellon College of Science to consider the appointment of departmental ombudspersons for graduate affairs became apparent during preparations for the 1999 MCS Advisory Board and from the results of the university-wide Graduate Student Survey conducted the same year. These findings indicated that many graduate students felt that there was no faculty member to consult when they had academic problems, especially when a student did not have a good relationship with his thesis advisor. It was also clear that students tended to identify specific members of the faculty whom they felt comfortable approaching when needed.

Despite the tendency to identify and approach certain faculty members, many students were concerned that their interests and privacy be protected and that the specific faculty member that they approached be in a position to assist them. These circumstances sometimes have lead students not to talk over their problems with faculty and, in some cases, relatively minor issues have grown into problems that take up significant amounts of time on the part of students, faculty, department heads,the Dean, and administrators at the university level.

Therefore, it is in the interest of students, faculty, and the administration of the college to have each department consider the appointment of an ombudsperson as an intermediary to assist in resolving problems in a timely manner.

Consideration of an Appointment:

In order to support more fully the graduate students of the Mellon College of Science, each department of the college will consider periodically the appropriatness of appointing an ombudsperson for graduate affairs. The consideration by a department of the appropriateness of making such an appointment should include the input of graduate students and faculty in the department and should be undertaken at least once between visits of the Advisory Board of that department. If such consideration results in a decision to appoint an ombudsperson, the term and manner of selection of the ombudsperson should be left to the individual department, but input both from faculty and graduate students should be sought in these matters.

The Dean of MCS will designate a member of the college administration and/or faculty to serve as coordinator and consultant to departmental ombudspersons and will provide logistical support to the ombudspersons.

Qualities and Responsibilities of the Ombudsperson:

An ombudsperson will function as an intermediary between graduate students and faculty, maintaining when necessary the anonymity of a student and the confidential nature of a problem. As part of the role of intermediary, the ombudsperson should be an important resource for information in mediating disputes that involve a graduate student. Examples of situations that may elicit involvement of an ombudsperson include discussing disagreements between a graduate student and a faculty member over issues of academic integrity, over the scope of a student's research or teaching responsibilities, over possible conflicts of interest, or over difficult situations in the classroom.

In order to fulfill these responsibilities, an ombudsperson should be willing and able to talk to students and faculty when the need arises. In addition, an ombudsperson should help to identify the options that are available in a given situation. The ombudsperson should be identified clearly as an impartial individual who can help resolve problems. In particularly sensitive or difficult cases, the department head will assist the ombudsperson in carrying out these responsibilities.