Self-help Tools

Glossary of MIT Ombuds Principles*


Confidentiality describes communications, or a source of communications, which are intended to be held in secret. In an Ombuds’ work, confidentiality is often accomplished by providing anonymity to the source of communications. When the source of a communication is unknown, or kept secret or completely private, this is known as an anonymous communication.

MIT Ombuds and their staff hold communications in strict confidence. MIT Ombuds and their staff will not answer questions about people with whom they may have spoken, or disclose an individual’s name or specific issue, with anyone outside of the Ombuds Office, unless during the course of their discussions with a visitor, they are given permission to do so for the purpose of informal conflict resolution, and if the Ombuds also agrees to attempt informal resolution. The only exception to this pledge of confidentiality is where the Ombuds determines that there is an imminent risk of serious harm.


Ombuds do not serve as advocates for any party to a dispute, including management. However, Ombuds do advocate for fair processes and fair administration of those processes by organizations. When making recommendations, Ombuds have the responsibility to suggest actions or policies that will be as equitable as possible for all parties involved.

MIT Ombuds, as designated neutrals, remain unaligned and impartial. The Ombuds do not engage in a situation which could create a conflict of interest.


The MIT Ombuds Office is independent in structure, function, and appearance. An Ombuds functions independently of line management.

The Ombuds reporting relationship is with the highest authority in an organization. MIT Ombuds report to the President.


An Ombuds functions on an informal and off-the-record basis by such means as listening to visitors or callers, providing and receiving information, identifying and reframing issues, developing a range of responsible options, and — with permission given to the Ombuds in the course of discussions and at the Ombuds’ discretion — making informal inquiries.

MIT Ombuds provide an informal resource to the MIT community. They do not participate in any formal adjudicative or administrative procedure related to concerns brought to their attention.

MIT Ombuds do not conduct formal investigations,adjudicate, arbitrate, or serve as witnesses in any administrative or legal proceedings either at the Institute or elsewhere. As a matter of policy, MIT does not call MIT Ombuds to disclose confidential communications or to serve as witnesses. Since the Office is made available to all members of the MIT community as a purely voluntary and “alternate” channel for communication, it is not appropriate for anyone to seek to compel the Ombuds or their staff to disclose confidential communication. Accordingly, people who use the program will be considered to have agreed to abide by these principles and not to seek to compel the Ombuds or their staff to testify with respect to confidential communications.

*Adapted from the Standards of Practice — Glossary and Code of Ethics of the International Ombudsman Association.