Frequently Asked Questions

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  1. What is an ombudsperson?  
  2. Who needs an ombudsperson?
  3. What does an ombudsperson do?
  4. What are typical kinds of concerns?

1. What is an ombudsperson?

An ombudsperson is a designated neutral who provides confidential and informal assistance for resolving university related concerns. The ombudsperson is independent of the university's formal administrative structure and will consider all sides of an issue in an impartial and objective manner. The ombudsperson cannot impose solutions, but will identify options and strategies for resolution.

The ombudsperson can advise you of your rights and responsibilities within the university, but cannot provide legal advice. The  ombudsperson does not advocate for any side in a conflict and may not participate in any formal investigation, hearing, or process.

Additional information regarding the standards of practice for university ombudspersons can be obtained at The International Ombudsman Association (IOA).


2. Who needs an ombudsperson?

The services of the Office of the Ombudsperson are available to all members of the NIU community equally: students, staff, faculty, administrators, alumni, parents, family members and others.

If any of the following statements apply to your situation, we invite you to consult with us.

  • If you are uncertain about which university policy, procedure, or regulation applies to your situation
  • If you feel that you have been unfairly or inequitably treated by a university employee or that any university policy, procedure, or regulation has been applied unfairly or erroneously, or is itself fundamentally unfair
  • If you have a problem that requires someone to help negotiate a solution, or to help facilitate your communication with faculty, staff, or others
  • If you would like to find out who has the authority to make an exception to a rule or policy
  • If you want to know the right person or office to whom to direct a formal complaint or grievance

3. What does an ombudsperson do?

The ombudsperson provides an opportunity for informal discussion of problems outside formal channels. The ombudsperson listens, discusses, answers questions, provides information, and helps develop options for resolving a situation. The office provides a means of conflict resolution that is non-confrontational, impartial, informal, and confidential. The ombudsperson cannot impose solutions, but identifies options and strategies for resolution. Contacting the ombudsperson does not constitute official notice to the university.

The ombudsperson will...

  • Listen to you
  • Answer your questions
  • Analyze your situation
  • Explain university policies and procedures
  • Provide information and advice
  • Develop options
  • Help untangle bureaucratic red tape
  • Suggest appropriate referrals
  • Assist you in pursuing a resolution
  • Apprise administration of significant trends
  • Recommend changes in policies and procedures

The ombudsperson does not ...

  • conduct formal investigations
  • change rules, policies, or procedures
  • participate in any formal hearing or grievance process
  • supersede the authority of other university officials
  • disclose and may not be required to disclose information provided in confidence, except to address an imminent risk of serious harm where there is no other responsible option
  • engage in any activity that might be perceived by others as advocacy for any individual
  • act as an agent of "notice" for the university

4. What are typical kinds of concerns?

You may discuss any concern or conflict confidentially with the ombudsperson. Issues brought to the ombudsperson include:

  • Academic issues
  • Incivility
  • Disciplinary matters
  • Discrimination
  • Harassment
  • Cultural conflicts
  • Instructor/Student misunderstanding
  • Grade appeal procedures
  • Financial concerns
  • Housing issues
  • Supervisor/employee relations
  • Privacy issues
  • Roommate concerns
  • Parking problems
  • Workplace issues
  • Unethical behavior
  • Interpersonal communications
  • ... and many others