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Ombudsperson

Paradise Pond in fall foliage with person sitting peacefully in swing

The Office of the Ombudsperson (ombuds) is a safe place for faculty and staff to talk in a confidential and neutral environment about concerns, such as as a conflict with a colleague or supervisor, the need for a difficult conversation or any work situation that you're unsure about how to handle. The ombuds will work with you to develop effective options for addressing concerns and resolving conflicts. The best way to set up a meeting is to send an email.

You may contact the ombudsperson to discuss a wide variety of issues, such as:

  • Desire to improve working relations with a colleague or your supervisor
  • Concern about the application of college policies and procedures
  • Difficulty in giving or receiving feedback, including performance appraisals
  • Concern about unprofessional behavior on the part of a colleague
  • An ethical dilemma that has arisen at work
  • Planning for a difficult conversation with a colleague or supervisor
  • Concern about safety or other aspects of your work environment
  • Curiosity about having a "facilitated conversation" or mediation process with a colleague or supervisor

The first thing the ombuds will do is take the time to get to know you, learning about your background, your department and the people with whom you work. All discussions with the ombuds are completely confidential, with rare exceptions related to Title IX policies or where there is risk of significant, imminent harm. The ombuds complies with the International Ombudsman Association (IOA) Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice.

Next steps involve exploring your specific situation. This might include reviewing such issues as:

  • A brief chronology of the events that have caused concern
  • Your perspective on this, as well as your sense for the perspective of other involved parties—including the needs and goals of all parties
  • Efforts made so far to resolve the issues
  • Your priorities, both personally and professionally—clarity about these can help you make good decisions about potential actions

Together, we will work to fully understand the important issues present and then brainstorm about options and solutions. In many instances, people benefit from jointly developing a plan for a discussion they will then have with the involved parties. It is not unusual to have more than one meeting about issues that are complex.

The ombuds is not responsible for:

  • Conducting investigations. Any matter requiring investigation should be brought to Human Resources, Legal or other formal channels at the college.
  • Establishing policies. There may be times, however, when the Ombuds may suggest that the college consider a different approach to a policy.
  • Getting involved in formal processes, such as grievance procedures or legal matters.

About Our Ombudsperson

Mark Stephens, Smith College Ombudsperson

Michael Stephens

Michael Stephens has served as ombuds for Amherst College’s staff and faculty since September 2015 and joined the Smith community as ombuds in November 2016. Prior to beginning his role at Amherst, he had many years of experience in human resources functions, employee relations, conflict resolution, ombudsperson services, facilitation and employee counseling. He worked for more than 25 years in various corporate settings, providing these services to employees and managers at all levels. He has a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Colorado and a master's in business administration from New York University.


Contact

Office of the Ombudsperson
Smith College
Lilly Hall 210
Northampton, MA 01060
Phone: 413-585-7953
Email: mjstephens@smith.edu
Hours: Mondays, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. or by appointment.