Frequently Asked Questions
The purpose and mission of the Ombuds Office, also know as VOICE, consistent with the Virginia Tech Principles of Community, is to enhance an ethical, supportive, and responsive culture for all members of the Virginia Tech University community by providing confidential, impartial, independent, and informal conflict resolution services and problem-solving support. The Ombuds Office also elevates systemic trends or concerns to the attention of University leadership to improve the fairness and effectiveness of those programs at a systems level.
We offer the opportunity for Tech community members to have a conversation that they wouldn’t be able to anywhere else. This is possible because the Ombuds Office has adopted, and all Ombuds in the Office, are required to adhere to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice of the International Ombuds Association ("IOA"). This adherence to the Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice means that Ombuds function independently of interference or direction from University administration. The Office operates confidentially and impartially and limits the scope of its services to informal means of dispute resolution and problem-solving support.
The office serves faculty, staff, students, administrators, and when appropriate, others who may encounter difficulties in the scope of their interactions with the university, facilitating communication and the resolution of conflicts, advocating for fairness and a healthy campus climate, and assisting all parties seeking support in reaching mutually acceptable resolutions that are consistent with the ideals and objectives of the university. In keeping with national norms, those who utilize the Ombuds Office are referred to as “visitors.”
When a visitor seeks support, the Ombuds in the Ombuds Office can listen, serve as a strategic thought partner, help plan or develop options to resolve conflict or to surface an issue, provide resources and information about University policies and systems, and otherwise assist with informal conflict resolution and problem solving.
In short, anything that involves Virginia Tech, whether school or work related, that you’re having a challenge with. Don’t hesitate to reach out because no question, situation, challenge or conflict is necessarily off-limits for a conversation. We don’t ever want someone to avoid reaching out thinking they are reaching out to the wrong office. If we can’t help, we’ll refer you to the appropriate office, such as Cook Counseling, the Office of Equity & Accessibility, a Human Resource Division Director, or other appropriate offices & resources on campus.
Administrators & leaders: Leadership/managerial/supervisory decisions or actions; conflicts within teams; acclimating as a leader; achieving trust with others; creating change.
Staff: Conflicts with supervisors or co-workers; retaliation; harassment; bullying; concerns about performance evaluations; career growth; and team dynamics.
Students: Disagreements with other students; problems navigating policies and/or academic requirements; concerns with staff and/or faculty.
Faculty: Challenges with other colleagues or administrators; concerns about promotion/tenure; issues with teaching and/or research concerns.
Here’s the bottom line: If a problem is happening that is getting in your way of growing and contributing at Virginia Tech then don’t hesitate to reach out. Problems are an opportunity for a solution and so explore what may be possible by connecting with us.
Think of Ombuds as a Swiss Army Knife. If you’re familiar with those handy little knives there’s a variety of practical tools packed into them. Similarly, the Ombuds Office will assist members of the university community in an informal and independent environment where ombuds staff listen, offer information about policies, resources, and procedures, and help people examine options for resolving concerns.
The following is not an all-inclusive list but a sample of the services the Ombuds will assist members of the university community with:
- Listening without judgment
- Being a sounding board
- Acting as a confidant
- Offering information about policies, resources and procedures
- Helping individuals better understand and identify their issues & interests
- Assisting individuals in examining options for resolving concerns
- Offering informal mediation & facilitated conversations
- Working with teams to build better interpersonal relationships
- Providing trainings, workshops & offering keynotes at team retreats
- Offering feedback to administrators, leaders, supervisors and managers
- Making suggestions for orderly and responsible systems change
The authority of the Ombuds derives from the establishment of the Ombuds Office by the University. The Ombuds Office has the authority to contact any and all other members of the University community, to gather information in the course of looking into a problem, to mediate disputes, to bring concerns to the attention of those in authority, and informally to attempt to expedite and resolve administrative processes.
The University recognizes that the Ombuds Office has the independent authority to engage in the following actions as an integral part of their role:
- Have Discussions with Visitors and Others. The Ombuds has the authority to discuss with visitors their concerns, available informal and formal pathways for resolution, options for next steps, relevant information, and resources. The Ombuds also has the authority to invite parties to engage in voluntary facilitated conversations and mediations as appropriate.
- Initiate Informal Inquiries. The Ombuds is entitled to inquire informally about any issue concerning visitor or member of the communities served by the Ombuds. The Ombuds may therefore initiate informal inquiries into matters that come to the attention of the Office without having received a specific complaint from a directly affected member of the University community.
- Access Information. The Ombuds may request access to University information related to visitors’ concerns, and will respect and preserve the confidentiality of that information. The University encourages its departments to respond to requests by the Ombuds for information with reasonable promptness.
Confidentiality is the defining feature of the Ombuds role. Communications with the Ombuds are confidential to the maximum extent permitted by law. The Ombuds will hold all communications in strict confidence and will not reveal-and must not be required to reveal--the identity of visitors to the Ombuds Office.
The Ombuds will not reveal any information disclosed to them in confidence except in accordance with the IOA Standards of Practice, including not disclosing such information without a visitor’s express permission and then only at the discretion of the Ombuds. The Ombuds Office will not be considered a “responsible employee” or a “campus security authority” for reporting purposes. The Ombuds may also disclose otherwise confidential information if they determine what might be an imminent risk of serious physical harm.
The confidentiality of communications with the Ombuds may not be waived by others. The Ombuds Office will resist any attempts by visitors or third parties to compel disclosure of confidential communications or documents by asserting a claim of confidentiality under any applicable rule or statute under which confidential communications may be protected including, where applicable, rules or statutes dealing with mediation and other methods of alternative dispute resolution.
 “Responsible employees” are those who serve as administrators, supervisors, academic advisors; give instruction; or have responsibilities for on-campus student activities, or student or employee discipline. (https://safe.vt.edu/employees.html)
 "Campus Security Authority," according to the federal law, is as follows: "An official of an institution who has significant responsibility for student and campus activities including, but not limited to, student housing, student discipline, and campus judicial proceedings." (https://www.globaleducation.vt.edu/content/dam/globaleducation_vt_edu/clery/August%202020%20CSA%20Notification%20Letter.docx.pdf)
No. The Ombuds has no authority to keep records on behalf of the University and will not create or maintain permanent documents or records for the University about individual matters. Temporary notes and any other materials related to a given matter will be maintained in a secure location and manner, and will be destroyed once the Ombuds concludes its involvement in a matter. Any reports made and shared with the University or others will be sufficiently deidentified to protect the confidentiality of visitors to the Office and their confidential communications.
No. The Ombuds Office is not authorized to receive notice of claims against Virginia Tech. Communication to the Ombuds or the Ombuds Office, accordingly, does not constitute notice to the University. This includes allegations that may be perceived as violations of laws, regulations, or policies, including sexual harassment or incidents subject to reporting under the Clery Act or Title IX. Although visitors may discuss such issues with the Ombuds, the University has determined that Ombuds are not a “campus security authority” under the Clery Act because they do not have significant responsibility for campus or student activities nor are they a mandatory reporter under Title IX because they are not an official of the University and have no authority to institute any corrective action on behalf of the University. Important rights may be affected by when formal action is initiated and when an entity is informed of allegedly inappropriate or wrongful conduct, and while working with the Ombuds may address a problem or concern effectively, it may not protect the rights of the person contacting the Office of the Ombuds.
If a visitor to the Ombuds Office wants to put a concern “on the record,” wants to put the University on notice regarding a specific situation or wants to file a formal complaint or grievance with the University, the Ombuds will provide the visitor with appropriate information so that the visitor may do so themselves.
No. The Ombuds has no authority to conduct formal investigations of any kind. The Ombuds also is not authorized to participate willingly in the substance of any formal dispute process, outside agency complaints or lawsuits, either on behalf of a visitor to the Ombuds Office or on behalf of the University.
No. The Ombuds has no authority to serve as an advocate, lawyer, representative, or counselor for any party in a dispute, nor will they represent University administration or visitors to the Office. Rather, the Ombuds will advocate for fair processes, respectful treatment, and equitable policies.
No. The Ombuds has no authority to make or change business decisions on behalf of the University. The Ombuds also has no authority to adjudicate, impose remedies or sanctions, or to enforce or change University policies or rules.
No. Use of the Ombuds Office will be voluntary and is not a required step in any grievance process or University policy. Because the Office of the Ombuds is a purely voluntary resource that no one is required to use, those who do so will be understood to have agreed to the terms, conditions, and principles upon which it was established and not call on the Ombuds to testify or produce documents relating to confidential communications in any legal, administrative, or other proceedings or matters.
Just as utilizing the Ombuds Office is voluntary the Ombuds may withdraw from or decline to participate in a concern if they believe their involvement would be inappropriate for any reason.
No one shall be punished for not consulting with the Ombuds. Retaliation against any person for consulting with the Office of the Ombuds or against the Ombuds for actions within the legitimate scope of the Ombuds' duties is prohibited.
Often, between someone taking (or not taking) some sort of action in response to a situation there is a space where people struggle to understand how they could respond.
VOICE can help people decide for themselves, by exploring options, how to better respond to the inevitable challenges that come up in any institute of higher education. This is possible because we offer a confidential space where people can think a challenge through.
If you are uncertain, or unsure, of what to do, including what resources might be available to you, a conversation with the Ombuds is always a first good step.
In any given academic year VOICE hears from hundreds of Hokie community members and so patterns emerge about systemic opportunities for improvement. For example, perhaps in several conversations that theme comes up about how a certain policy or practice impacts community members in a specific way and so there’s an opportunity to give feedback for improvement. Though VOICE does not make or create policies, or have the authority to change policies, we can provide general feedback and suggest to the appropriate decision-makers the need for improvement.