How we work
The Ombuds Office is a safe first step in dealing with a problem. It is a good place to visit to evaluate your options when you are unsure how to proceed. Often it is easier to resolve a conflict when it's brought to the office at an early stage. However, you may also consult the Ombuds Office as a last resort, when other efforts have failed, or at any point along the way. We will listen, offer information about Columbia University policies and procedures, and present a flexible range of options for resolving a problem. The Ombuds Office emphasizes mutual respect.
With permission, the ombuds officers may informally and impartially look into a situation, facilitate communication, use shuttle diplomacy, or mediate a dispute. We help to move a conflict toward a resolution but do not judge, reward, or discipline any parties. Any kind of complaint, no matter how big or small, is appropriate. We specialize in interpersonal conflicts, misunderstandings, and issues of civility and ethics as well as concerns that fall in gray areas not covered by rules or procedures. Speaking with the ombuds officers can help untangle a complicated situation and uncover alternatives available to relieve your concerns. Solutions may be adapted to suit your needs in a particular situation, and they may include surfacing a complaint while at the same time protecting your confidentiality. The goal is to enhance your ability to deal effectively with the situation independently, if you wish. Alternatively, we can serve as neutral third parties or mediators. If more assistance is required, the Ombuds Office can facilitate your access to other resources.
The Ombuds Office supplements but does not replace the existing resources for conflict resolution and fair practice at Columbia University. If you are not satisfied with informal attempts at resolving a conflict, you may select a formal grievance process. We can give you information about the formal procedures but cannot handle formal grievances. If your complaint falls outside the scope of other grievance procedures, is too sensitive or confidential, or for some other reason you feel you cannot use normal channels, please consult us. Consulting with the ombuds officers is a voluntary alternative, for all parties, to formal procedures. All members of the University community have the right to consult the ombuds officers. Retaliation for exercising that right will not be tolerated.
The Ombuds Office receives over six hundred new cases each year, with visitors from all schools of Columbia University, including a range of administrative units and academic departments. Concerns are brought by all categories of students and employees, who represent the diverse composition of the community. Many individuals resolve their cases on their own after one or two consultations with an ombuds officer. The resolution of some cases requires several stages and may include meetings that sometimes—with permission—include contacts with multiple parties within a department. Data shows that the Ombuds Office receives calls from every part of the University, indicating that the office is meeting its goal of serving the needs of the entire community.