The MIT Ombuds Office serves as a neutral, confidential, independent, and informal resource to the MIT community for resolving disputes, managing conflict, and for educating individuals in more productive ways of communicating. The office advocates for a fair conflict management system and supports systemic changes to achieve this goal.
During the past academic year, the Ombuds Office undertook a review of its operations and effectiveness and developed an operations plan. The plan seeks to improve the effectiveness of the Ombuds Office in delivering services to the MIT community, to foster an effective MIT conflict management system in collaboration with the other elements of the system, and to help improve the skills of supervisors and managers in preventing unnecessary conflict at the local level.
The Ombuds Office received more than 1,200 people in academic year 2001-2002, including faculty, students and staff. Common issues included academic concerns, conditions of work and study, performance and supervision, policies and procedures, personal and interpersonal concerns, concerns about various perceived transgressions, separations and terminations from MIT, requests for referrals, and consultations about how to deal with a specific concern.
The office continued to work in collaboration with various academic and administrative departments in reviewing, improving, and better coordinating the Institute's internal administrative conflict management policies and procedures. The office is continuing to improve its website, and is searching for ways to improve access to information about the office and about other resources in the MIT conflict management system.
Ombuds staff designed and taught a course for several groups of faculty and high-level administrators on MIT's complaint handling processes and how to improve complaint handling skills. Several shorter versions of the course are occasionally offered as well. After September 11, Ombuds staff facilitated group and individual discussions focused on painful issues between the Israeli and Arab communities.
Externally, Ombuds staff designed and delivered training, and participated in panel discussions about the role of an organizational ombuds in North America—through The Ombudsman Association and the University and College Ombuds Association, and as invited speakers elsewhere. These sessions focused on ways that an ombuds program may enhance the effectiveness of an organization—by providing a means for individuals to raise and resolve issues early on, and reduce the number and cost of contentious complaints. Several sessions concentrated on dealing effectively with harassment and discrimination by taking a systems approach within an organization and one focused on "new problems turning up in organizations." Ombuds staff continue to survey ombudspeople worldwide, participate in professional conference calls, and write articles—most of them available on the Ombuds website.
Since the departure of Thomas P. Zgambo from the Institute in June 2001, there have been two ombuds on staff; during AY2002 a search was underway for a third ombuds.
More information about the Ombuds Office can be found on the web at http://web.mit.edu/ombud/.