Ombudsing in Higher Education: A Contingent Model for Mediation in University Dispute Resolution Processes

Article excerpt

University and academia are, due to its nature, its structure and its inside relationships, a perfect breeding ground for the conflicts, disputes, problems, and grievances. In these settings, mediation is one of the dispute resolution mechanisms most used by University Ombudsperson. However, the special characteristics of university contexts make it necessary to consider and evaluate elements that may have a bearing on the effectiveness of the process and outcomes of the mediation. In this paper a model of contingent intervention in mediation processes articulated in three dimensions is put forward: a) level of balance or symmetry of power between the parties involved; b) the foreseeable temporal perspective of the relationship between them; and c) level of formalization of the mediation process. Based on the interaction between the three dimensions, a series of proposals will be formulated in order to design different strategies of intervention for mediation processes in university settings. Practical implications of this contingent model and future research on this topic are discussed.

Keywords: mediation, university ombudsman, conflict resolution, higher education

Debido a su naturaleza, a su estructura y a las relaciones que se establecen en ellos los contextos universitarios son lugares donde surgen con frecuencia desacuerdos, problemas, conflictos y enfrentamientos. La mediación es una de las herramientas más utilizadas por los Defensores Universitarios para resolverlos. Sin embargo, las características propias de estos contextos obligan a considerar y evaluar ciertos elementos que pueden influir sobre la eficacia de los procesos y los resultados de la mediación. En este artículo se presenta un modelo contingente de mediación articulado en torno a tres dimensiones: a) nivel de simetría de poder entre las partes implicadas; b) perspectiva temporal de las relaciones entre ellas; y c) nivel de formalización del proceso de mediación. A partir de la interacción de las tres dimensiones se formula una serie de estrategias de intervención en procesos de mediación en contextos universitarios, y se discuten las implicaciones prácticas del modelo así como las futuras líneas de investigación en este ámbito.

Palabras clave: mediación, defensor universitario, resolución de conflictos, educación superior

Since the second half of the twentieth century and especially during the last two decades, internal dispute resolution mechanisms have become very important in all types of organizations: financial entities, health systems, prisons, universities, large corporations, and institutions (Harrison, 2004; Harrison & Morrill, 2004). These mechanisms aim at the direct participation of the parties involved in the resolution of the conflict, complaint or other type of dispute, as well as the opportunity to express and use their voice (Hirschman, 1970) in order to change situations, demand their rights, defend their interests or call for the compliance of a norm. Among the mechanisms used for alternative dispute resolution, that avoid lawsuits, formal adjudication or the intervention of punitive actions, are mediation and ombuds dispute resolution, whose spheres of implementation have increased considerably during the last 25 years (Ambroz, 2005; Rowe, 1987, 1991; Shapiro & Kolb, 1994; Shestowsky, 2004).

Not only is mediation one of the oldest forms of conflict resolution, but is also used worldwide (Folberg, 1983), as well as in many contexts, especially in international relations, labor-management negotiations, community disputes, school conflicts, and legal disputes (Wall, Stark, & Standifer, 2001). More recently an important increase in the use of mediation in all types of settings and organizations has been observed: schools, families, neighbours, intercultural, law courts, etc., a tendency accompanied by the formulation of different models and approaches aimed both at research and practice (Bush & Folger, 1994; Carnevale, 1992; Folger & Jones, 1994; Holaday, 2002; Kressel & Pruitt, 1989; Menkel- Maedow, 1995; Picard, 2004; Winslade & Monk, 2000). …