The Harvard Ombuds Office provides impartial and independent dispute resolution services to Harvard students, faculty, staff, fellows, trainees, and retirees whose concerns are impacting their work or studies. It offers its visitors a highly confidential and informal forum in which to clarify their concerns, identify their goals, and consider all of their options in managing or resolving these concerns. Any issue may be brought to the Ombuds Office.
In December, Harvard expanded and centralized its ombuds services to align resources, communications, and support structures. Melissa Brodrick, who has served as ombuds for the Longwood Medical Area for more than a decade, has been appointed as director to coordinate the two campus sites — one located in the Longwood Medical Area, primarily serving the affiliates of Harvard’s Medical School, School of Dental Medicine, T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and all Harvard appointees at its affiliated hospitals since 1991; and the other located in Cambridge, primarily serving all other members of the Harvard community since 2003.
Two new ombuds, Colette Carmouche and Adam Barak Kleinberger, who oversees the Cambridge site, recently joined the team following the retirement of Lydia Cummings, University ombudsman for 17 years. They also work with ombuds Justin Neiman who came to the Longwood site three years ago from Stanford University.
The Gazette spoke with Brodrick and Kleinberger to learn more about what an ombuds does, who may want to consult with their office, and for what reasons. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Melissa Brodrick and Adam Barak Kleinberger
GAZETTE: For those who may not know, what exactly does the Harvard Ombuds Office do?
ADAM KLEINBERGER: We talk with community members about their concerns and conflicts. Much of what we do is to listen without judgment — helping people clarify what’s at the heart of their concern, what they hope can happen, and what options are available to help them reach their goals. All of these conversations are confidential with the exception of an imminent risk of serious harm to oneself or others. Barring that exception, we want to emphasize that nothing leaves our office without the permission of our visitor and that we don’t keep any notes except while working with them. By design our office maintains our independence from the University itself except for basic administrative purposes.
MELISSA BRODRICK: It’s important to note that we’re not an office of record; we are a safe place to talk and think through concerns. In our impartial roles we’re not advocates or advice-givers or investigators; we’re more of a sounding board and help people to make their own best decisions about what next steps, if any, they want to take.
We provide a wide range of services. We often coach people on how to best approach a difficult conversation. We also facilitate conversations between people — it might be between a staff supervisor and their supervisee or two researchers collaborating on a project or a professor and student. We also work with groups, often when there are issues affecting morale and productivity. We often direct our visitors to relevant resources — departments, staff, policies, formal complaint processes, etc. — that they may not be aware of. And there are times when we bring information forward to leadership ourselves when appropriate. Part of our role is to help identify trends impacting the University for leadership’s consideration in developing resources, programming, and policies to address these concerns.
GAZETTE: Things are changing with regard to the ombuds at Harvard. Would you tell us more about what is new?
BRODRICK: We’re appreciative of Lydia Cummings’ service in Cambridge and the opportunity to expand her work. We’ve doubled the resources of the Cambridge site — from one ombuds and a half-time ombuds coordinator to two ombuds and a full-time ombuds coordinator. This expansion reflects the model developed at the Longwood site.
GAZETTE: Are there other members of your team?
KLEINBERGER: Yes. In addition to the four ombuds, we are grateful to have two dedicated and experienced administrators as part of our team — Jude Heichelbech, the ombuds coordinator since 2012, and Robin Cheung, the Longwood site program administrator since 2008. They have helped make the office comfortable for visitors to connect with the ombuds.
GAZETTE: Melissa, you and Justin and Howard Gadlin (a consultant ombuds) stepped in to support the Cambridge site following Lydia’s retirement, and you have helped Harvard make some of the updates related to the Ombuds Office. Would you tell us more about the decision to merge what were previously two separate offices under one director?
BRODRICK: We previously had two offices that worked collaboratively and effectively together over the years in limited ways, but were essentially independent from one another. Offering services now as one office with one team at two sites will allow us to share and build on individual strengths and perspectives, streamline our marketing efforts in order to increase our collective visibility, and expand our training services. We’re also excited to be designing a new database system to include unattributable data from across the whole University. In collecting and sharing this information, we can help University leadership and the Harvard community at large better understand the concerns and issues that we are seeing. On occasion we use this information to have a conversation with leadership that can lead to the development of resources, programming, and policies that can most effectively address these issues.
GAZETTE: Do you have anything else to add?
KLEINBERGER: I would underscore that everyone on the Harvard Ombuds Office team has a deep commitment to serving Harvard and every member of its community. Many times, these individuals may be struggling with a problem that they’ve never had before, and they are unable to come up with potential solutions. We want to be a resource to help them to do so.
BRODRICK: Yes, we are here to do what we can to contribute to a healthy work and academic experience for all. Our mission is to “support an ethical and civil culture, encouraging mutual understanding and resolution through respectful dialogue and fair processes.” I’d like to acknowledge Katie Lapp and Alan Garber for their support during the transition and re-envisioning of the Harvard Ombuds Office, without which these changes wouldn’t be occurring. I’d also like to thank the leadership in the Longwood area for their willingness to share resources during the interim year and for their support of our reconfigured services.
GAZETTE: For our final question, how should community members get in touch with you?
KLEINBERGER: While we are designing our Harvard Ombuds Office website, we have a new landing page that directs individuals to our current websites: https://harvardombuds.harvard.edu/. People can also contact our administrative staff. For the Cambridge site, Jude Heichelbech can be reached at 617.495.7748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Robin Cheung can be reached at 671.432.4041 or email@example.com. Additional information for direct contact with an ombuds can be found through our landing page address above.