Our Role

Key Roles

In Relation to Students

The Office of the Ombuds is where students can discuss current or anticipated disputes and conflicts with the University, as well as concerns and complaints in a confidential, informal and safe environment. The Office offers informal dispute resolution services, provides resources and referrals and helps the University’s diverse students understand their rights as they consider available options.

The Office is not an advocate for either side in disputes. Instead, the Office of the Ombuds is a neutral and impartial advocate for fair and consistent treatment. The office operates as an independent supplement to existing administrative and formal dispute resolution processes and has no formal decision–making authority.

In Relation to the University

The Office of the Ombuds believes that disputes and conflicts can often be "gifts" to help the University understand how it can change and improve. Thus, the Office promotes positive organizational change by facilitating improvements in University policies, procedures, services and systems to better serve students.

How the Office of the Ombuds Can Help

What Does the Ombuds Do?

  • Provides a safe and confidential setting where students feel respected and where they can be candid and forthright.
  • Listens intently and discusses conflicts, disputes, concerns and complaints that students have about the functioning of the University, including its policies and procedures, the actions of others and unfair treatment.
  • Helps students evaluate and select among a variety of options to address their concerns.
  • Answers questions or help find others who can answer them.
  • Makes appropriate referrals and assists in creating a helping network for students.
  • Coaches students on dispute resolution skills.
  • Advises students about informal and formal problem resolution possibilities, and helps to untangle and clarify "red tape."
  • Engages in shuttle diplomacy between parties finding it difficult to solve a problem.
  • Identifies needed improvements in University policies, procedures, and patterns of treatment, and recommends changes.

What Does the Ombuds Not Do?

  • Participate in formal grievance processes, hearings or judicial processes.
  • Make administrative or academic decisions for other parts of the University
  • Determine the guilt or innocence of those accused of wrongdoing.
  • Assign sanctions.
  • Give legal advice.
  • Keep official University files and records

Confidentiality and the Ombuds Office

Confidentiality is an important principle in the work of the University Ombudsman.  But what does confidentiality mean specifically, and how might that impact your decision to contact the Ombudsman?

Stated most simply, the Ombuds holds all communication with those seeking assistance in strict confidence.  I do not disclose the identity of visitors to the office or the content of conversations unless permission has been given by the visitor to do so.  The only exception to this pledge of confidentiality is when the Ombudsman determines that there is an imminent risk of serious harm to self or others.  I do not participate in any formal process within the University and resist testifying in any formal process outside the institution.  I keep no records containing identifying information on behalf of the University.

Why may a confidential conversation be especially helpful if you are experiencing a problem or dispute with the University?

  • In a confidential setting, the Ombuds Office can offer a safe space and the freedom to talk about especially sensitive situations that you may not yet be comfortable sharing with others.
  • As a confidential resource, without a duty to report student concerns, it is up to the student visitor to decide whether and how to proceed in any situation.
  • Confidentiality can allow me to collect information (with the student's permission) and explore options without revealing the identity of the student.

If you or someone you know would benefit from a confidential conversation, I hope you will contact me at tlehker@umich.edu or 734-763-3545.

UM Sexual Misconduct Policy and the Ombuds Office

This past fall the University implemented a new Policy on Sexual Misconduct by Students.  The policy, which applies to all U-M students as well as participants in University-sponsored programs, new policy changes are effective January 9, 2019.  The new policy replaces an interim procedure that was put into effect August 2011 in response to new guidance provided to all universities by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.

Of note, supporting information on the Policy's website identifies three units on campus offering strict confidentiality to students who would like to discuss issues related to sexual misconduct.  The Ombuds Office is one of those three units, in addition to the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center and Counseling and Psychological Services.

Learn more about the confidential nature of the Ombuds Office, as well as our other Standards of Practice.