Office of the Student Ombuds Charter
The Georgetown University Office of the Student Ombuds (OSO) was established by the
Provost in 2021. The Office serves all Main Campus undergraduate and graduate students
including students in the School of Continuing Studies (SCS), Biomedical Graduate Education
(BGE), School of Nursing (SON) and School of Health (SOH). It does not serve students in the
School of Medicine or Law Center.
The Office of the Student Ombuds, also referred to in this Charter as “OSO”, “Office” or
“Ombuds Office,” serves as a confidential, independent, impartial and informal resource for the
Georgetown University community. Anyone who utilizes the OSO and consults with the Student
Ombuds is referred to as a “visitor.” The Office is staffed by an ombuds professional who
practices in accordance with standards set by the International Ombuds Association (IOA) and
is a Certified Organizational Ombudsman Practitioner (CO-OP®).
The primary purpose of the Ombuds Office is to provide a confidential space for visitors to
discuss their concerns with a trusted consultant who will engage them in constructive
problem-solving, help them explore their options and empower them to make their own
decisions. The Office works to promote civility, respect and a sense of belonging among
members of the Georgetown University community by helping visitors resolve conflicts and
disputes, improve communication and better navigate the institutional resources available to
them. The overall mission of the Office is to foster and support a respectful, just and equitable
learning, working and living environment for the diverse members of the campus community.
Visitors can expect the Ombuds to listen to their concerns in a non-judgmental and unbiased
manner without fear of retaliation or retribution for utilizing the Office. The Office is an alternative
to formal channels of dispute resolution and does not put the University “on notice” or formally
file grievances or claims on a visitor’s behalf. The Ombuds also serves as a catalyst for
constructive organizational change by identifying systemic issues or concerning patterns,
trends, policies and procedures and bringing them to the attention of University leaders. When
applicable, the Ombuds may also provide training, educational activities, workshops or coaching
to individuals and organizational units.
The Ombuds Office has multiple responsibilities and duties that include but may not be limited to the following:
- Listening respectfully and providing a confidential, safe environment for visitors to share, discuss and reflect on their issues and concerns;
- Honoring visitors’ requests to hold all information and actions in confidence so that their identity is not revealed unless visitors choose to give their permission to the Ombuds or in cases where the Ombuds believes there is an imminent threat of serious harm to the visitor or to someone else;
- Helping visitors fully understand their concerns and consider their options;
- Explaining University policies and practices;
- Making appropriate referrals to other campus resources;
- Coaching visitors on techniques to improve their communication skills, conflict resolution skills and navigating difficult conversations;
- Engaging in shuttle diplomacy with the visitor’s explicit consent;
- Conducting informal conflict resolution through varied techniques such as facilitating conversations among individuals or groups or providing informal mediation;
- Providing information to University leadership regarding problematic trends, concerns, and systemic issues;
- Developing and presenting an annual report to University leaders specific to each Ombuds Unit.
Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice
The Ombuds Office adheres and follows the practices of the International Ombuds Association
(IOA). The IOA is dedicated to excellence in the practice of ombuds work and their code of
ethics provides a common set of professional ethical principles to which members adhere. The
IOA Code of Ethics reflects a commitment to promoting ethical conduct in the performance of
the ombuds role and to maintaining the integrity of the ombuds profession. An Ombuds shall be
truthful and act with integrity, shall foster respect for all members of the organization they serve,
and shall promote procedural fairness in the content and administration of the organization’s
practices, processes, and policies.
The Ombuds will establish and follow consistent practices and policies which will be posted
publicly on the Ombuds Office website. The Ombuds will also publicize the key principles on
which the Office is based, including the confidential, independent, impartial, and informal nature
of ombuds services and will clearly explain the standards by which the Ombuds practices to
each visitor. The Ombuds shall be a member of IOA and shall adhere to IOA’s Standards of
Practice in performing ombuds services for visitors.
Confidentiality is the defining feature of the Ombuds Office. Communications with the
Ombuds are confidential to the maximum extent permitted by law. The Ombuds will hold
all communications in strict confidence and will not reveal-and must not be required to
reveal–the identity of visitors to the Ombuds Office.
The Ombuds will not reveal any information disclosed to them in confidence in
accordance with the IOA Standards of Practice. The Office holds the identity and all
communications with visitors in strict confidence except under the following
- The visitor gives the Ombuds permission to make specific disclosure
- The Ombuds determines that there is an imminent risk of serious harm to self or others
- The rare instance where the Ombuds is legally compelled to disclose.
Since the Ombuds Office is a purely voluntary resource that no one is required to use,
those who do so will be understood to have agreed to abide by the terms, conditions,
and principles upon which it was established and not call on the Ombuds to testify or
produce documents relating to confidential communications in any legal, administrative,
or other proceedings.
The University has also agreed to respect the terms, conditions, and principles on which
the Ombuds Office was created and will not call on the Ombuds to testify or produce
documents relating to confidential communications in any legal, administrative, or other
proceedings, absent a court order.
The confidentiality of communications with the Ombuds may not be waived by others.
The Ombuds will resist any attempts by visitors or third parties to compel disclosure of
confidential communications or documents by invoking the terms, conditions, and
principles of this Charter and by asserting a claim of confidentiality under any applicable
rule or statute.
Independence is essential to the effective functioning of the Office. The Ombuds
functions outside existing administrative structures, shall be, and shall appear to be, free
from interference in the legitimate performance of their duties. This independence is achieved primarily through the reporting structure, neutrality, and organizational
recognition and respect for the independent role of the Ombuds. Within the framework of
IOA standards, the Ombuds will exercise sole discretion over whether and how to act
regarding individual or systemic concerns.
The Ombuds provides a means for off-the-record discussions of concern and is a
resource for informal dispute resolution and mediation services. The Ombuds has no
authority to investigate, arbitrate, adjudicate, or in any other way participate in any
internal or external formal process or action. The Ombuds is authorized to provide only
informal assistance and does not have authority to make or override decisions;
determine policy; provide legal advice; or accept legal notice of claims or complaints
against the University. For those wishing to assert claims or have on-the-record
communications, the Ombuds can make referrals to appropriate formal channels so that
individuals may make informed choices about which process they decide is best for them
to pursue. Use of the Ombuds Office is voluntary and not a required step in any
grievance or other process.
The Ombuds will strive for impartiality and fairness in the consideration of all visitors and
the issues they raise. The Ombuds will not take sides in any conflict, dispute, or issue.
The Ombuds will, however, promote fairness and fair process. The Ombuds shall
consider the interests and concerns of all parties involved in a situation impartially with
the aim of facilitating communication and assisting the parties in reaching mutually
acceptable resolutions. The Ombuds will avoid involvement in any matter in which their
private interests, real or perceived, may conflict with their ability to be impartial and
independent in their role. To avoid such conflicts in the first place, the Ombuds will not
serve as a voting member on committees and will not serve in a formal policy-making
capacity, except with regard to policies affecting the Ombuds Office. If a potential conflict
of interest nonetheless exists, the Ombuds will take all steps necessary to disclose the
potential conflict and recuse themselves from involvement in the case.
Procedures and Operations
The Office operates as a safe space for all visitors to share their experiences, and it works to
protect fairness and respect for all. Retaliation to visitors will not be tolerated by University
leaders following University policy as well as District of Columbia law.
The Office maintains only anonymous, aggregate data. Formal records are not created, nor are
personally identifiable documents preserved. Informal notes may be temporarily created only
insofar as they are necessary for case management and are disposed of at the conclusion of a
Authority and Limits
The Office supplements, but does not replace, existing formal processes available. Generally,
the use of ombuds services does not delay the filing of any formal grievance or complaint
procedure. In most cases, the Ombuds may offer to facilitate a conversation between parties in
conflict. The Office does not have the authority to change or overrule any university policy or
administrative decision. The Office has no authority to institute corrective measures on behalf of
the University or to receive notice of any claims against the University.
From time to time, the Office may require legal or other professional advice to fulfill its required
While the Office is independent, it reports to the Vice Provost for Education in the Provost’s
Office and prepares a report that is submitted every fiscal year.
The report will include information related to:
- The number of visitors served
- Services provided to visitors
- Any recommended changes to University policies and practices with rationale
- Any other matters that the Office deems necessary or advisable to support the Georgetown University community.
The annual report shall not disclose any information that the Ombuds is required to keep
confidential in accordance with the IOA Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice. The annual
report will be shared with the relevant University leaders.
The Ombuds may periodically propose amendments to this Charter.
This Charter has been accepted and adopted by:
Robert Groves, Provost, Georgetown University, on September 28, 2022
Rohan Williamson, Vice Provost for Education, Georgetown University, on October 12, 2022