The author is special assistant to the president of Arizona State University, professor of public affairs, and served as chair of the university's ombudsperson committee for 10 years. Earlier, he was an assistant dean in the ASU graduate college.
The ombudsman is not a new phenomenon, although its use in the U.S. has been limited. As a dispute resolution technique, the use of the ombudsman has perhaps been nowhere more prevalent than at the university level, where neutrals "provide information and work to resolve disputes before they can reach a stage where only a grievance system can resolve them." Roughly 200 colleges and universities have established ombudsman offices. This article is a schematic of the successful program instituted by Arizona State University.
Agrievance system is invaluable for moderate- to large-size organizations as it provides for a formal impartial resolution of issues that cannot be addressed in any other manner. By the time an issue is taken to grievance, both sides have taken firm positions and the intensity of feelings on each side makes it difficult to revert to a normal working situation after a decision is rendered.