New Archive at MIT Sheds Light on the Evolving Role of the Omsbud Profession as it Related to Women

Mary Rowe, former MIT ombudsperson, has donated to the MIT Libraries’ department of Distinctive Collections as part of the Women at MIT Archival initiative, which highlights the contributions of women at the Institute by acquiring, preserving, and making accessible their personal archives. Rowe is a conflict management specialist whose work contributed to MIT having one of the world’s first anti-harassment policies and one of the first organizational ombuds offices. Important portions of her collection have now been digitized by the libraries, making the history of Rowe’s groundbreaking work more accessible.

Rowe served as special assistant to the president and ombudsperson for almost 42 years as a designated neutral party available to every member of the MIT community. She was to practice “informally” — meaning with no ordinary management decision-making authority or authority to provide redress — and no one could be required to see her. She worked with each constituent to try to develop options for their own choice in dealing with their concerns. With permission, and upon request, she often helped to bring issues to the attention of Institute decision-makers. In her four-plus decades as an ombuds, Rowe received more than 20,000 constituent visits.

The newly digitized materials include items identified by Rowe as integral to the ombuds profession. The collection itself, comprising 38 boxes of material, includes some of Rowe’s publications as well as records of several ombuds associations, which show the evolving nature of the profession and highlight workplace issues that emerged at specific times. The materials document practices of organizational ombuds in many types of organizations, including government, academic, corporate, multinational, international, and nonprofit organizations.

“We’re thrilled to be able to make this collection available,” says Alex McGee, interim head of public services and Women@MIT project archivist for Distinctive Collections at MIT Libraries. “Not only will it be a valuable resource for any researcher interested in issues of conflict management, discrimination, gender equity, sexual harassment, and a systems approach to all workplace issues, but it also sheds light on a pivotal period for women at MIT and the work involved in documenting and improving conditions for them.”

Filed Under: Women's Studies


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