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Volume 3, Number 1, Oct 2002

Similarities and Differences Between Campus Ombudsing and Mediation (page 3 of 4)

Typical Services Provided

As discussed by Warters (2000), some mediation centers may only offer "mediation on demand," but most also offer extensive educational services. The context and range of delivery formats of these services are frequently quite broad and diverse, including both academic and non academic programs and training. Mediation services focus on the issues surrounding the resolution of interpersonal conflict. To the individual seeking assistance, they typically offer advice and strategies, one of which may be formal mediation.

Ombudspersons rarely conduct or facilitate formal mediation sessions, although they frequently engage in "shuttle" diplomacy or advise one party to a dispute. While some consultees request assistance in resolving an interpersonal conflict, most people contacting an ombuds office seek other types of assistance and services. They usually want to tell their story to an objective but knowledgeable neutral and confidential party. Typically, they want their perceptions challenged or affirmed, appropriate institutional policies and procedures identified, and a set of options developed that could ultimately result in the resolution of their concern. While one of the options might be mediation or some other form of conflict resolution strategy for situations that involve traditional interpersonal conflict, the options provided by the ombudsperson are more likely to focus on steps that the consultee can take individually to resolve the concern presented. These could include items such as referral to counseling, to an administrator with the authority to make an exception to policy, or to an existing grievance or appeal process. In addition, ombudspersons are expected to act as monitors of campus culture and behavior and to make recommendations to appropriate institutional administrators, governance bodies, and/or the community as a whole (Kerze, 1994; Hasenfeld, 1995; Beattie, 1996). As such, the ombudsperson frequently has been described as a higher education organizational development specialist and the "conscience of the campus."


Ombuds offices and mediation centers both strive to improve the lot of their service clientele through empowerment and education. Neither has authority to impose solutions. Perhaps the ombudsperson can be most succinctly described as a problem-solver to those who seek his or her services and an organizational consultant to administrators and institutional governing bodies. The role of campus mediation centers seems more narrowly defined and specific to education and conflict resolution functions. The ombudsperson is a consultant and advisor, who provides suggestions in response to all types of campus concerns and attempts to facilitate institutional change through direct recommendations. The mediation center staff member is a conflict resolver and programmer, who addresses issues related to interpersonal conflict and attempts to facilitate institutional change by enhancing the conflict management skills of the members of the campus community.

While some might argue that a potential overlapping of functions is a possible source of conflict over turf between these two functions, I see no reason to believe that this has been or will become an issue of contention between practitioners. Ombudspersons are likely to be contacted by people who feel they have been inappropriately evaluated in a class or the workplace, who have allegedly been targeted for discriminatory or harassing treatment, who desire an exception to a policy, or who are simply entangled in institutional red tape and are seeking options and advice. Mediation centers are more likely to be called upon to facilitate traditional mediation and conflict resolution of an interpersonal dispute or to provide academic and skill training in conflict resolution techniques.

Indeed, the functions of campus mediation centers and ombuds offices overlap a little and compliment each other very well in fulfilling their respective and valuable niches in the collegiate structure and culture as important facets of an integrated conflict management system (SPIDR, 2001). As these two professions continue to evolve, it is likely that more and more college and university campuses will recognize the distinctive value of each, working in a collaborative manner to improve the campus culture and enhance the experience and success of all members of the campus community.

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Page last updated 11/27/2005

A project of Campus Conflict Resolution Resources.
Supported by a FIPSE grant from the US Department of Education
and seed money from the Hewlett Foundation-funded CRInfo project.

Correspondence to CMHE Report
(Attn: Bill Warters)
Campus Conflict Resolution Resources Project
Department of Communication
585 Manoogian Hall
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI 48201.

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