The Ombudsperson’s Role: The Internal Neutral

Event Date: Wednesday March 19, 2003
Time: DRF: 8:30-10:00 a.m. (Continental Breakfast at 8:00) Peervision Case Conference: 10:15-11:30 a.m.
Location: Pound 335, Harvard Law School

Mary Rowe
Yoshiko Takahashi

Around this country, and around the world, organizational ombudspeople field many calls and questions about their profession. Some of these calls come from people who are well informed about the profession, while others are from the other extreme — those who are puzzled about the title (Ombudsman? Ombuds? Ombudsperson?) or about how to pronounce the word.

By the same token many people wonder how can one be an “internal neutral” — is this an oxymoron? The questions proliferate:

  • I knew a Provincial Ombudsman in Canada once. Is this the same job?
  • What do you have to do to be an ombudsman — is there a degree course?
  • How can I get a job as an ombudsman?
  • How is an ombud different from HR? EAP? EO? Legal? Ethics? an IG?
  • What do you do about chronic complainers?
  • What do you do about VIP offenders?
  • How can you deal with all different cultures?
  • What do you do if you really do not like a person in your office?
  • What do you do if someone is being abused, and will not give you permission to act?
  • Are you a sort of watchdog?
  • If people tell dirty jokes or racist jokes, what about free speech?

Drs. Rowe and Takahashi will address these and other common questions regarding the role of an ombudsperson. Mary P. Rowe is Ombudsperson, Adjunct Professor of Management, Alfred P. Sloan School of Management, Special Assistant to the President at MIT, and a member of the Program on Negotiation Steering Committee. Yoshiko Takahashi is ombudsperson and professor at Keio University in Japan. She earned her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Stanford University in 1987 and established the first ombuds office in Japan in 1998 after visiting ombuds offices at American universities. She is on a sabbatical leave this year and conducting research at PON and the Sloan School of Management at MIT.

Following Dr. Rowe and Dr. Takashi’s talk is a Peervision case conference, in which Gabrielle Gropman and John Dugan, from the Harvard Mediation Program, will present an interpersonal roommate dispute involving elements of power imbalance, race, and sexual orientation issues. Gropman and Dugan will present the case, focusing on the different skills brought to the situation by the two mediators, one a therapist, and the impact of their training backgrounds on the dispute.

RSVP is necessary


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