Suffolk University needs an ombuds office

We have faced our fair share of challenges in the last decade, but we are still an institution that values fairness and integrity. It is essential that our actions reinforce these principles.

An ombuds office, or Office of the Ombuds, founded on the core principles of independence and impartiality, is a designated official tasked with resolving conflicts and addressing concerns. An ombuds office would provide reassurance that a welcoming office exists to explain policies, mediate disputes, and redress grievances.

Whether it’s a public relations crisis caused by a professor rejecting a Latina student’s writing as “not her own,” or frequent presidential searches and firings marred by controversy and investigation, we have room for improvement in many areas of our university.

The first step toward improvement is recognizing that a problem exists, but the second step is displaying a concrete commitment to fixing it. Suffolk University’s own Diversity Task Force recommended the creation of an Office of the Ombuds two years ago. The creation of an office at Suffolk University would bring us in line with hundreds of other higher education institutions that have already found success with ombuds offices.

We need a resource that stands independent from students, faculty, and the university administration, to ensure that we are truly committed to positive growth, transparency, and progress. Acting with a ‘no-wrong-door’ policy, an ombuds office will be able to assist students, faculty and staff with any issue — especially complex challenges, outdated practices or operational inefficiencies. 

Whether it’s a public relations crisis caused by a professor rejecting a Latina student’s writing as “not her own,” or frequent presidential searches and firings marred by controversy and investigation, we have room for improvement in many areas of our university.”

At the institutional level, it would codify unwritten policies and procedures, and help us all understand them. The reason an ombuds office would be the primary place to identify and address these long-term concerns is because their mandate is specifically impartial and independent from the university structure.

Importantly, even though individual cases are confidential, an ombuds office can identify and report on trends or patterns of issues that may be systemic. Many people at Suffolk University have persistent concerns regarding student spaces, the rise of tuition year after year, or dining services concerns going unaddressed, among other issues. But the lack of a reporting resource risks leaving our larger community unaware of many concerns that can affect their university life.

Rather than making decisions in the best interest of fairness and justice for the long-term benefit of the institution, many university resources and services resort to quelling concerns in the best interest of the university’s short-term reputation. It might even prevent the university from draining resources and incurring unnecessary legal liability. When a grievance rises to the level of litigation the university is forced to spend excessive amounts of time and money dealing with an issue that could have been avoided if appropriately and openly addressed early on. Initially established with one or two part-time staff members, an ombuds office can become an effective force in our university’s efforts to fundraise, especially through attracting new alumni contributions.

Today, there are many great resources available to students, faculty and staff at the university. However, the lack of a centralized, independent and impartial office weighs down on our upward momentum. Without an ombuds office, students, faculty or staff members with unresolved concerns may harbor grievances, which leads to disaffection, distrust and disappointment. It would be an asset at the frontlines, as well as in the thick of handling any concern.

Suffolk University faces challenges as an institution, but that is not unique. What makes our university special, however, is our ability to act proactively to push forward as we excel on a path of success.