Unlike most Ivies, Yale lacks ombudsman

With Brown University currently considering proposals to appoint a campuswide ombudsperson — a neutral party that offers University members confidential guidance on campus and workplace problems — Yale may soon find itself one of just two Ivy League schools without this sexual misconduct resource.

In 2011, the Advisory Committee on Campus Climate recommended the appointment of a campuswide ombudsperson as a means to improve sexual misconduct resources on campus. The only other Ivy League school that does not offer an official ombudsperson is Dartmouth, which has an ombudsperson for nonfaculty employees. University President Richard Levin said administrators rejected the proposal in November 2011 to avoid complicating Yale’s current system of sexual misconduct response resources, and there are no current plans to establish a University-wide ombudsperson’s office.

“There’s no strong prejudice against it. It just seemed like we had many avenues available,” Levin said. “I doubt that’s one of the issues I’ll take up in the last 11 weeks.”

The Advisory Committee’s report said if students do not use existing resources to address instances of sexual misconduct, a campuswide ombudsperson’s office could provide a reporting option that is “confidential, neutral, [and] informal.” The option may be particularly important for graduate students because they often possess additional career and workplace concerns regarding sexual misconduct-related incidents, according to the report.

In response to the Advisory Committee’s recommendations, administrators established the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct and expanded the staff and resources of the Sexual Harassment and Assault Response and Education (SHARE) Center. Levin said the creation of another office at the time would have conflicted with the report’s recommendation that Yale’s sexual misconduct resources be clarified.

“[The University] concluded that, in light of the community’s clear call for Yale to simplify and streamline its processes and programs, it would not be a good time to create another office,” Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler said, “especially since the SHARE Center was positioned to offer the anonymity that the Advisory Committee recommended with regard to complaints of sexual misconduct.”

Unlike a human resources representative for employees, or a dean or master for students, ombudspersons are informal channels of reporting that do not notify the University about their cases, said Jim Hostetler ’55, who has advocated for organizational ombudspersons in the past.

Tom Kosakowski, an ombudsman at the University of California, Los Angeles who runs a blog for ombudspersons, said an ombudsman is often better equipped than a confidential counseling center to advise university members on the issues of workplace or community relations that often arise in sexual misconduct cases.

Still, the employment of ombudspersons at Yale has had “mixed success” in the past according to the Advisory Committee’s report. Merle Waxman, who serves as both the Title IX coordinator and the ombudsperson at the School of Medicine — the only school at Yale that currently has an ombudsperson — said her office has been an effective conflict resolution option for the School of Medicine community, but that she thinks other models could work equally as effectively.

Ombudspersons also handle many issues unrelated to cases of sexual misconduct, such as workplace grievances and career-related complaints, said Ruth Rosenberg, ombudsperson at Brown University. Waxman said she focuses on a much broader set of concerns in her role as ombudsperson than just addressing issues that fall under Title IX.

The Office of the Ombudsperson in the School of Medicine was established in 1992.

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