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Ombuds already dealing with first cases

The protection of the rights of students and staff at MU has so far been covered by many mechanisms and processes across different departments. Now the University has centralised the protection of rights in one person and office. The new position is held by the Ombuds Eva Janovičová.

Ombuds Eva Janovičová.

With the role of the Ombuds, MU has established a university-wide rights protection unit. The coordinator, Jan Rigó, is available in the MU Rector’s Office. In an interview for M Magazine, Eva Janovičová said that she would be happy if, over time, students and employees began to see her position as something helpful to them.

What attracted you to the position of the University’s Ombuds so much that you left your legal practice for academia?

In my professional life and after many years in the legal profession, I felt that it would be good to move on. At the same time I was tempted to get to know the academic environment and the second-largest university in the Czech Republic. My decision to apply for the selection procedure was also related to the fact that MU established a position that was not only new for the university, but went hand in hand with a trend in Czechia. Since I used to practice commercial law, what attracted me to the position was that I could be more in touch with actual people and their problems and help them on a personal level.

Has the university and the Ombuds role met your expectations so far?

Masaryk University is a huge institution. I’ve got my bearings for the most part, but I think I need to go through the whole academic year so that I fully understand the different processes and priorities.

Your responsibilities include matters in which MU staff and students may have previously felt they had nowhere to turn to, or found making a submission too complicated. What matters are these?

This might include matters of discrimination, unequal treatment, various forms of bullying, such as bossing and mobbing, but also labour-law matters relating to the protection of rights. I will certainly also deal with issues of discrimination and unequal treatment by students, inappropriate behaviour by lecturers and issues relating to their study affairs where they feel their rights have been infringed. However, this may not only concern students, but also university applicants and of course, MU staff. I am also prepared for submissions concerning sexual harassment, where Masaryk University has, in my opinion, established correct mechanisms for dealing with such cases; my position, however, will ensure centralisation of the process. From 1 July, I assumed all responsibilities, including the areas of sexual harassment and whistleblowing.

Could you explain the concept of whistleblowing for our readers?

Whistleblowing means reporting certain illegal forms of conduct under the Whistleblower Protection Act, which has been in force since 1 August this year. It covers, for example, corrupt and other illegitimate practices within an institution that threaten the public interest. The areas, conditions, and procedures for dealing with it are precisely defined by the Act. A whistleblower may be an employee or, for example, a trainee who becomes aware of unlawful practices through their work for the institution.

At MU, the Ombuds is part of several working groups and committees. Who else do you work with?

For example, I am the Chair of the Equal Opportunities Panel and will work with the Ethics Committee as necessary. I have taken over the implementation of Masaryk University’s Gender Equality Plan, and I cooperate in selected cases with University departments and units on condition of anonymity.

What does the Gender Equality Plan at Masaryk University address?

It is the University's vision to promote gender equality, which is part of MU’s Strategic Objectives regarding the principles of transparency, equality, accountability and work-life balance for employees and students. The plan states that MU will focus on various areas, implement initiatives and provide support in its activities.

Many question the independence of the Ombuds. So is your position really independent of the MU faculties and departments?

My powers are enshrined in the organisational rules and the directive on the protection of rights. I come from outside the University and have no links to its faculties and departments. I manage the submissions myself, I record them myself and I do not share information with anyone. No one will interfere with my area of responsibility. I am bound by confidentiality where necessary; I can only consult experts in the field.

What is the procedure when someone reports an issue?

Let’s say I receive a report. I will contact the person who made the report, ask for their ideas on how to deal with the problem, whether they want to remain anonymous or whether they are willing to disclose their name. Then I meet with the person, suggest possible solutions, and then it is up to the person. If the person does not want to remain anonymous and wants to address the situation, it is also easier because we can communicate better and address the problem with the people involved. Then, for example, the investigation is carried out by interviewing other people involved in the case. In the end, I consider who to refer the case to – whether the dean of the faculty, the head of department, and so on. I don’t make a decision myself, but I make a recommendation as to how to proceed.

Are you already dealing with any complaints?

Yes, submission are coming in and I must say that they are not few. Sometimes they concern procedural questions, but I also receive reports that I investigate more thoroughly. These can be employment issues, discrimination, bullying, student affairs, inappropriate behaviour by teachers and students, or plagiarism, for example. So far I have received several reports from students.

What is your vision for your office?

I will be very happy if, over time, students and staff see my position as something that benefits them. That they know someone has addressed the issue and tried to resolve it. I want to improve methodologies, procedures and processes so that they are gradually applicable in practice and increase the protection of rights at the University.

Is there anything from your previous legal experience that you can use as MU Ombuds?

I can use what I have learned from my legal practice about communicating with people who submit complaints. And perhaps the art of mediation, of reconciling the parties. And if the matter involves the law, my advantage is that I can quickly study the legislation, get my bearings and apply the law to the problem.

You have to keep the cases confidential, not disclose them to others. Is that difficult? When you are done for the day, can you put the cases out of your mind?

I have to admit that when I am not at work, I cannot forget about my cases entirely. But I know how to deal with it: I relax with my children, who calm me down. For me, the best cure for work-related stress is to spend time with my family and go out with my children.

Eva Janovičová graduated from the Faculty of Law of Palacký University Olomouc. She received her degree in law (JUDr.) from Masaryk University. She has fourteen years of experience in the legal profession, during which she mainly focused on civil, commercial, and labour law. In her legal practice, she has dealt with both court disputes and out-of-court settlements.