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Ombuds

Ombuds Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is an Ombuds Office?

    A confidential, independent, neutral, informal, and safe resource where the Clemson community can go to process concerns, get information, and develop options for how to move forward in a difficult situation. 

    The Ombuds offer local support through coaching, active listening, generating options, providing information, making referrals, mediating, and facilitating difficult conversations.  Simultaneously, they effect global change by alerting University leaders to trends of issues and concerns, making recommendations for change, and training the Clemson community in conflict resolution and productive communication.

    An Ombuds Office is:

    • Neutrality: The Ombuds Office acts as a third-party observer helping you gain a clear picture of your conflict or situation from multiple perspectives. We do not take sides in any situation, and we remain unaligned and impartial within the University. 
    • Informality: The Ombuds Office does not participate in any formal University proceeding or investigation.  This is a low-risk, off-the-record place to go to consider multiple options for resolution and figure out your next steps.
    • Independence: The Ombuds Office is independent in structure, function, and appearance to the highest degree possible.  We function outside the normal chain of command, which allows us flexibility in how we operate and access in communicating depersonalized trends and recommendations to University leaders.
    • Confidentiality: All communications with the Ombuds Office are treated with strict confidentiality to the extent permissible by law.  The Ombuds Office will not disclose confidential communications unless a visitor gives us permission to do so and will not retain identifiable records.  The only exception to confidentiality is when there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm.  

    For more information, visit the website for the International Ombuds Association (IOA): https://www.ombudsassociation.org/

  • Is there anything the Ombuds cannot do?

    Yes.  Because of the Standards of Practice of neutrality, informality, independence, and confidentiality, the Ombuds cannot:

    • Accept notice on behalf of the University.
    • Advocate on behalf of anyone or on behalf of the University.
    • Give legal advice.
    • Make binding decisions or change policies.
    • Participate in any formal process, procedure, or investigation.
    • Create records with identifiable information.
  • What is a visitor?

    A visitor is anyone who reaches out to the Ombuds Office for support. 

  • How does the Ombuds Office protect the confidentiality of visitors?

    We will not reveal your identity or any content of your communication with us unless you give us explicit permission to disclose it or unless there appears to be an imminent risk of serious harm to yourself or to others.  We do not retain any identifiable records or notes.  When reporting to University leaders, we report only depersonalized aggregate data.  We discourage the use of email because we cannot guarantee the confidentiality of any digital communication. 

  • Are there any exceptions to confidentiality?

    An Ombuds will keep all communications completely confidential unless a visitor gives them permission to disclose something. The only exception to confidentiality is when there appears to be imminent risk of serious harm to yourself or to others. 

  • Why does Clemson University have an Ombuds Office?

    For individuals, an Ombuds Office:

    • Is a safe place to go when you don’t know where else to go.
    • Provides a space to get information, process concerns, and generate options before you decide how to move forward.
    • Educates you about conflict resolution, communication, and self-advocacy.
    • Provides coaching, mediation, facilitation, dispute resolution, and referrals to other resources.

    For organizations, an Ombuds Office:

    • Helps anticipate and address issues before they escalate.
    • Proactively prevents conflict by conducting training, education, coaching, and facilitation.
    • Builds a culture of engagement, transparency, and productive communication.
    • Recommends changes to University policy and procedures.
    • Is a sounding board for new ideas and initiatives.
  • How is the Ombuds Office different from Human Resources?

    Both human resources and an Ombuds Office are important resources for faculty and staff of an organization.  An Ombuds Office is independent, impartial, informal, and confidential, while Human Resources represents the organization and has reporting responsibilities.  Although conversations with Human Resources can at times be confidential, they are not automatically confidential; in some situations, notifying Human Resources of an issue can automatically set off a formal process.

    The Ombuds Office and Human Resources work best when they collaborate and recognize each other’s strengths. They can make referrals to each other to ensure that the Clemson community is served by the most appropriate resource for their unique situation.

  • Am I required to visit the Ombuds Office before I contact other offices?

    No.  The Ombuds Office is a voluntary resource.  If you are not sure where to go with your concern or conflict, you can choose to contact the Ombuds Office to discuss your options, but it is not required. 

  • Are the Ombuds mandatory reporters or Title IX or prohibited discrimination?

    No.  The Ombuds Office is a confidential resource and is not obligated to report situations that may implicate Title IX or prohibited discrimination.  The only exception to Ombuds confidentiality is where there appears to be an imminent risk of harm to the visitor or others. 

  • Can faculty and staff visit the Ombuds Office during work hours?

    Yes.  As a resource for faculty and staff to address work-related concerns, the Ombuds Office can be accessed during working hours.  Meetings can also be arranged during lunchtime and outside of normal working hours if needed. 

  • Can the Ombuds come with me to a disciplinary hearing or performance review?

    No.  Because of our role as an independent, neutral, and informal resource, we cannot serve as an advocate or witness to a formal University investigation, hearing, or procedure.  However, we are happy to discuss these processes with you and educate you on your options. 

  • What if I experience retribution after contacting the Ombuds?

    Retribution or retaliation are strictly prohibited at Clemson University.  If you feel you have experienced retribution or retaliation after contacting the Ombuds Office, you can report your concern to the proper office for investigation.  The Ombuds can give you information about these resources.

  • Who can reach out to the Ombuds?

    Clemson University has two University Ombuds, and anyone can reach out to the Ombuds for support.  Dr. R. Gordon Halfacre serves faculty and students, and Tessa Byer serves staff. 

  • When can I meet with the Ombuds?

    There is no limit to the issues you can bring to the Ombuds.  If you would be better served by a different office or resource, the Ombuds can give you that information.  The Ombuds can meet with you over the phone, via video chat, in-person at the Ombuds Office, or in-person at a location convenient to you.  Reach out to the Ombuds to arrange a time and method that works best.

If you have additional questions, do not hesitate to reach out.