IOA Statement in Response to Caferra/University of Mississippi

By Chuck Howard, IOA Executive Director and Melanie Jagneaux, JD, MBA, CO-OP

The International Ombudsman Association (IOA) continues to monitor the actions of the University of Mississippi regarding Paul J. Caffera in connection with a purported investigation into allegations of a hostile work environment, stemming from the disclosure of anonymous emails from university officials to the press. 

IOA Executive Director Chuck Howard spoke yesterday with Ashton Pittman, the reporter from the Mississippi Free Press who has written many of the articles concerning events at the University of Mississippi and the university's actions against Mr. Caferra. In particular, Chuck noted that the process apparently used by the university in appointing an interim ombuds—while Mr. Caferra is still the ombuds and on administrative leave—was flawed. Not only is it not clear why the appointment of an interim ombuds was necessary while the investigation is pending, the appointment of someone on an interim basis (with no disclosed search process) who is the Chair of the Academic Discipline Committee, regardless of any personal qualities of the person appointed, is not consistent with the core principles of independence and impartiality recognized both in the University of Mississippi Ombuds' Charter and in the IOA Standards of Practice. Chuck also explained the chilling effect that this interim appointment would have on the interim ombuds' ability to actually perform the job. It is clear from previous reporting that there appears to be widespread fear of retaliation among the faculty. Even if the interim ombuds were to recuse himself in matters in which he might have a conflict of interest, this misses the main point: Faculty members and graduate students will likely be reluctant to even contact him given his other responsibilities, especially since he was appointed while Mr. Caferra is still the ombuds and the investigation into the source of the disclosure of anonymous emails by university officials is still pending.   

IOA stands in steadfast support of Mr. Caffera’s adherence to the UM Ombuds Office Charter and recognized professional standards that enable his service as an independent, informal, impartial, and confidential resource for university faculty, staff, and graduate students.

As part of any institution’s pursuit of respect, fairness, and justice in its community, an ombuds plays a valuable role for anyone wishing to surface sensitive information or learn about viable courses of action to right a wrong, settle a dispute or remove barriers that prevent them from achieving their goals. Ombuds also serve organizational leaders by pointing out trending issues, emerging problems, and systemic challenges, while preserving the confidentiality of all those who seek guidance.

Confidentiality is at the core of an ombuds’ effectiveness, and any effort to undermine it can only be perceived as a direct threat against the ombuds profession and the people served by practitioners like Mr. Caffera.

Having demonstrated a commitment to this core ombuds value, it appears that Mr. Caffera now faces retaliation, which places the University in violation of the Ombuds Office Charter. It is our firm position that the University must avoid any action that poses a threat not only to Mr. Caffera and the Ombuds Office, but to people who now and in the future may require an ombuds to safely and confidently discuss or raise issues without fear of retaliation. Pursuing any action that threatens the confidentiality or integrity of an organization’s ombuds office charter will have a chilling effect on the organization’s community and among ombuds offices everywhere.

We urge the University of Mississippi to respect the confidentiality of records and sources pertaining to Mr. Caffera’s ombuds work and respect its obligation under the Ombuds Office Charter to pay Mr. Caffera’s legal expenses in order to perform the functions of his position.

We will continue to follow the actions of the University of Mississippi to ensure that ombuds everywhere are allowed to adhere to IOA Standards of Practice and serve their communities in the most effective way possible.
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Comments on "IOA Statement in Response to Caferra/University of Mississippi"

Comments 0-15 of 3

Elisa Enriquez - Monday, January 04, 2021

Thank you for your leadership and timely, well-executed response.

Mark - Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Hat's off to Chuck, Melanie and GPC for taking a stand. It's GREAT to see OO's mobilize for a cause!

Ruthy Kohorn Rosenberg - Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Thank you IOA for taking a stand!

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