The Ombudsperson’s office provides confidential, impartial advice. JUDY HU/THE VARSITY

 

Professor Emeritus Ellen Hodnett’s three-year term as University Ombudsperson is coming to a close. Hodnett has served as a faculty member in the Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing for 39 years and as an elected member of Governing Council for nine years.

Established in 1975, the Office of the University Ombudsperson is an independent body designed to provide confidential and impartial advice to students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Based on these observations, the office publishes an annual report to inform Governing Council of the systemic issues that merit review.

Hodnett stressed that the role of the office is not for advocacy, but rather to ensure fair application of policy. She said that the office has a “great deal of informal power” with the publication of their reports. “I really like that it keeps everyone honest since our assessment of policy is open to the public.”

The Review Committee has been established to assess the role of the Ombudsperson, whose findings Governing Council must review and approve. Following this, the Search Committee will be established to find a successor. According to the terms of reference for the Office of the Ombudsperson, this is conventional practice.

Director of Media Relations Althea Blackburn-Evans said that no speculation can be made as to whether changes will be implemented as the review is still underway.

Hodnett remains concerned about the low number of people seeking support from the Ombudsperson’s office, especially from UTM and UTSC. According to the Ombudsperson’s 2016–2017 Annual Report, the office handled 339 cases, relatively similar to the numbers in 2015–2016 and 2014–2015, which respectively handled 316 and 314.

Hodnett said the office does not have the data to explain why so few members from each campus are using the office for support. “For all we know it could [be] because the policies in place are effective and people don’t have to reach us with their issues.” Hodnett suggested that the Review Committee consider having an Ombudsperson for each campus.

Hodnett plans to address this concern with the Review Committee, but she recognizes this is just one possible model. She emphasized the need for careful consultation and other ideas to increase accessibility and stimulate a productive dialogue.

University of Toronto Students’ Union President Mathias Memmel suggested that the Office of the University Ombudsperson focus beyond systemic issues. Further, he recommended a “greater emphasis on a timeline for implementation,” due to Governing Council’s slow responses to the Ombudsperson’s reports.

In addition, Memmel claimed the reports “tend to highlight one or two issues… excluding some simply because they don’t fit priority one or two.”

To assist in the assessment process, the Review Committee invites members of U of T to share their thoughts and feedback regarding the Office of the University Ombudsperson and submit nominations for the next Ombudsperson.




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