Reconnecting with the Confoederatio Helvetica
ENOHE President Josef Leidenfrost recently visited the Ombuds-team of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich).
For half a day, topics relevant to the ombuds profession were discussed and possible cooperation with higher education institutions within the confoederatio helvetica, i.e. the Swiss Confederacy, debated.
The main aims of the meeting were reconnecting with our Swiss colleagues and talking about the future. The first contacts between the European Network of Ombudsmen in Higher Education (ENOHE) and Swiss higher education institutions took place in the mid 2000s.
The ETH Zurich is the most renowned technical university in Mainland Europe and was founded in 1855. It has almost 25.000 students (from some 120 countries worldwide) and about 9.700 employees (academics, administrators and technicians).
Historical reminiscences on the ENOHE annual conference 2006 “Complications arising from interpersonal Dependency. The Ombudsman’s Role in Avoiding and Solving upcoming Problems and Conflicts in Institutions of Higher Education” were made first.
Sixteen years ago, the ETH Zürich and the University of Zurich, had been, to quote the then organisers, “proud to invite the ever-growing network of academic ombuds institutions within Europe and beyond to exchange knowledge and pick up ideas as how to do an ever-better job”. Some 60 colleagues had participated in that third ENOHE annual conference. An occasional paper about the conference was published at the time and is available at: https://enohe.net/newsarchive/.
Since 2020: Strengthened Ombuds Office at ETH Zurich
Another topic was discussion of the reinforced ombuds office at the ETH Zurich.
An Organizational Ordinance revised in June 2020 stated that ombuds shall support members of the ETH Zurich in difficulties or conflicts at the workplace or within study programs. They shall work towards feasible, balanced and acceptable solutions by listening, advising, mediating or arbitrating. They shall inform the competent bodies about irregularities and/or incorrect conduct. All activities are subject to confidentiality.
An annual report has to be presented to the ETH Executive Board.
As to staff there should be at least three active ombuds at the same time, with different agenda, elected after public advertisement of the position for a term of four years with the possibility of re-election. The ombuds should be familiar with the conditions at universities and have relevant experiences for this function.
Participants in the meeting from ETH’s side were Margit Leuthold Ehrler, Annette Spiro, Kathrin Teuscher and Jonas Nakonz. They each have special backgrounds and work profiles as flagged on their respective homepage entries (https://ethz.ch/en/the-eth-zurich/organisation/ombudspersons-and-trusted-intermediaries.html) and were elected to their posts in line with the Organizational Ordinance. The ombudspersons are a general contact point for conflicts that cannot be solved by direct communication and for reporting suspected illegal actions. They serve students and employees.
Networking between networks
In 2019 a first meeting of Swiss ombudspersons from all over the country organized by the ombudspersons of ETH Zurich took place, with participants from the universities of St. Gallen, Luzern, Bern, Basel, Fribourg, Neuchâtel, Lausanne and from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne.
The possibility of establishing an informal Swiss network is being evaluated.
All colleagues present at the meeting with ENOHE agreed that working relations should be intensified and that Swiss contributions to the European network’s manifold activities should be fostered.
It was agreed that there should be a mutual exchange of information on important developments between the Swiss and the European groups. A contribution on a Swiss country profile to the forthcoming 18th ENOHE Annual Conference in mid-June 2023 in Prague, Czech Republic, would be a starting point for such a reconnection.