Frequently Asked Questions

Who can access Ombuds Office services?

Anyone with concerns related to PhD students’ and postdocs’ study and training, or other aspects of life at Johns Hopkins impacting PhD students and postdocs.

What does the Ombuds actually do?

The Ombuds can provide a variety of services — including partnering in strategic thought, providing information on resources, or facilitating a difficult conversation. What an ombuds provides depends on the situation and the preferences of the PhD student or postdoc who visits the Ombuds Office.

What will happen after I contact the Ombuds? What should I expect at a meeting?

You can schedule a meeting via Calendly or contact the Ombuds by phone at (410) 218-6669 to make an appointment. Initial appointments are usually an hour, but we can adjust according to your availability, and we will do our best to accommodate your schedule. You do not have to tell us your name or any identifiable information, however, you may want to leave a call-back number so we can follow-up to finalize your appointment time.  

During a consultation, the Ombuds will briefly explain their role and answer any questions you may have. The Ombuds will then invite you to share whatever you would like to share with them. The Ombuds will listen, ask clarifying questions, and then work with you to determine the next best steps. You do not need to prepare in any specific way for this meeting, but if you have any relevant documents or materials (email exchanges, course or program documents, letters of discipline, performance evaluations, etc.) that you think are pertinent to your concerns, you are welcome to share them with the Ombuds during your visit.

What kinds of situations can the Ombuds Office help with?

The Ombuds can assist with a variety of situations, from dissertation issues to interpersonal conflicts; navigating academic or research expectations to mistreatment; or questions or concerns about JHU policy.

Please review the type of issues the Ombuds typically hears.

Are there any situations that the Ombuds won’t help with?

People are welcome to contact the Ombuds Office with any concern related to their study, training, and experience in general as a PhD student or postdoc at JHU. If an issue is outside of scope, we may offer a referral to other resources to address your concern. The Ombuds does not participate in formal grievance processes, but can still be available to consult confidentially on resources and to describe how formal processes work.

How does the Ombuds Office maintain the confidentiality of people who use its services?

We will not reveal the name of anyone who contacts the Ombuds Office, nor any information shared with us, unless given explicit permission to do so. The only exception to this is if we learn that someone is in imminent danger of serious physical harm or if we have reason to believe a child has experienced abuse or neglect.  We will resist any attempts by inquirers or third parties to compel disclosure of confidential communications or documents. 

To the greatest degree possible, we manage scheduling and case data via secure third-party software, rather than using university email and servers. We keep only temporary case notes, which are destroyed as soon as your work with the Ombuds Office concludes. We maintain no permanent records beyond deidentified statistical information, which we use to report generally on the annual activities of the Office.

We discourage the use of email for substantive communications because we cannot guarantee the confidentiality of digital information, particularly if sent via university email.

Are there any situations in which the Ombuds Office can’t guarantee confidentiality?

The only exception to our confidentiality is if we learn that someone may be in imminent danger of serious physical harm or if we have reason to believe a child has experienced abuse or neglect.

If we are ever subpoenaed or otherwise asked for information, we will assert the confidential nature of that information and resist any attempts by inquirers or third parties to compel disclosure of confidential communications or documents to the full extent legally possible. 

How can the Ombuds really be impartial and independent if they’re a Johns Hopkins employee?

Organizational Ombuds who operate at universities and other institutions are hired by the organization to serve in a confidential, independent, impartial, and informal role. The JHU Ombuds, like other university ombuds, follows the professional code of the International Ombuds Association, which underscores how central impartiality and independence are to the effectiveness of the work. The Ombuds Charter agreement between the Ombuds Office and the university serves as the formal contract that protects the office’s independence and impartiality, and it directly specifies that the Ombuds’ work is not subject to the substantive direction of the university. It further states that the Ombuds is not a representative of any party, be it administration or an individual visitor to the office.

Can I consult with the Ombuds via email?

We discourage the use of email for substantive communications because we cannot guarantee the confidentiality of digital information, particularly if sent via university email. Instead, please schedule a consultation with us via Calendly or by calling us at (410) 218-6669.

I may want to file a formal complaint. Can I still consult with the Ombuds?

Yes. While the Ombuds cannot receive formal complaints on behalf of the university, the Ombuds can help you understand formal grievance processes, know where to go for information, and discuss possible outcomes to support you in deciding what you want to do. The Ombuds can also help you to identify other available alternatives to formal grievance procedures, and can direct you to the appropriate office if you determine that you would like to file a formal complaint.

What does the word “Ombuds” even mean?

The word “ombudsman” is a Swedish word meaning “representative of the people” and originally stems from the Old Norse words umboth (“commission”) and mathr (“man”). Sweden was the first known country to appoint independent officials known as ombudsmen to investigate complaints against government officials and agencies.  Today, the word “ombuds” refers to someone who is designated to resolve concerns within an organization in an independent, confidential, impartial, and informal way.