The word “ombudsman” is not gendered. The Swedish word from which the term is derived is “umbudsman.” Literally “umbuds” means “representative” and “man” means “the people,” or representative of the people—ombudsman, ombudsperson, and ombuds are used interchangeably.
Western references to the role of ombudsman date back to the 18th century when the self-exiled King Charles XII introduced the role to create accountability on behalf of Swedish citizens vis a vis the government during his absence. The classical ombuds practice is said to grow out of this early Swedish role. Classical ombuds provide people a place to turn with concerns when government systems appear not functioning in an ethically or procedurally correct manner. Following investigations, an ombuds may make recommendations. Government entities might use such recommendations to undertake corrective actions. These are tasks associated with parliamentary or classical ombuds. In the late sixties and early seventies, in the United States, the practice of organizational ombuds work emerged from the context generated by various civil rights movements. The ombuds program at Oberlin College falls within this practice of organizational ombuds work.
The Office of the Ombudsperson is dedicated to improving the quality of campus discourse by providing conflict resolution tools and improving communications skills across campus. An organizational ombuds provides services that are informal and which provide means for problem solving and conflict resolution that are separate and distinct from formal grievance, adjudication, judiciary and legislative processes. The hallmarks of organizational ombuds services are independence, confidentiality, neutrality (impartiality/multipartiality), and informality. These four principles are interdependent in the practice of the work of the organizational ombuds.