For fairer universities: AMU hosted a meeting of university ombuds

The idea of university ombudspersons has developed significantly over the past year. The number of ombuds at higher education institutions has grown since 2021, including the addition of two Faculties of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, the Film and TV School (FAMU) and the Theatre Faculty (DAMU), Charles University’s Faculty of Arts, the Tomáš Baťa University in Zlín, the Technical University in Liberec, the Faculty of Arts of Palacký University in Olomouc, and the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague with its Anti-Discrimination Platform. These and 80 more representatives of the educational, non-profit, and human rights sectors met at the FAMU Studio as well as online on 27 January to attend a colloquium of the School Ombuds Platform (ŠOP). The current government human rights commissioner Klára Šimáčková Laurenčíková spurred the inception of the ŠOP, acting as the FAMU ombudswoman FAMU at the time.

The School Ombudsman Platform has been establishing itself in recent months and the colloquium marked an important milestone for its existence and further development. The platform is currently helmed and developed by the current FAMU ombud Pavlína Junová, DAMU ombud Petr Polák, ombudsman of the Faculty of Arts of Palacký University in Olomouc Jaroslav Šotola and his deputy Michaela Antonín Malaníková, and the ombudsperson of Charles University’s Faculty of Law Pavla Špondrová.

The meeting focused on several topics: the ombuds’ professional identity and operating principles, addressing individual suggestions in real life, and introduction of the School Ombuds Platform. The participants discussed, for example, the issues of legislative definition of ombuds in the Czech Republic, which could define the scope of their activity and authority and the conditions for their work. A definition of the aforementioned factors would streamline and accelerate the solutions that ombuds help to seek further to suggestions submitted by individuals. Another topic was adequate education in the field of ombud service, in particular in terms of legal and psychological skills as well as defining and sharing fixed terminology. Topics also included the scope of activity and the definition of the ombuds’ role, handling the anonymity of the parties involved, and the selection of the right person for each institution. Functioning principles were defined as impartiality, confidentiality, and informality. The discussion also covered the options for increasing the relevance of the ombud topic for university leaders, senior authorities, and the general public. Jean Grier, the Vice-President of the European Network of Ombuds in Higher Education (ENOHE), delivered a speech during the event.

In the middle of June, Prague will host the 20th edition of the international ENOHE conference, an open platform where ombud issues can be shared in an international context.

Intending to operate as an institution, the ŠOP will organise the next colloquium in 2024.

Ingeborg Radok Žádná, rector of Academy of performing arts in Prague says: “I rate the establishment of the ombud position as a right move. The insights and recommendations that these people bring forth are important for the management of both the entire institution and the individual Faculties. Defining the role of ombuds is also very useful for the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, should it start work on preparing a uniform methodology. I understand the role of ombuds as being one of mediation, education, and helping everyone to realise that as individuals, we are responsible for our conduct.”

photo: Alex Chudá

1. February 2023