After over 40 years servicing UTSG, the Office of the Ombudsperson has expanded to place officers on all three campuses, following a vote by Governing Council in May. The expansion was done in the hopes that it would increase awareness of the Office’s existence and assist in outreach, according to Ellen Hodnett, the recently re-appointed U of T Ombudsperson.
The Office of the Ombudsperson was founded in 1975 and acts as an independent body to help faculty, staff, students, and alumni resolve university-related issues and brings forward broader systemic problems to Governing Council.
Hodnett describes the position as largely about directing people to the correct resource. In the past, the Ombudsperson’s report to Governing Council proposed the contentious university-mandated leave of absence policy.
In an interview with The Varsity, Hodnett described a lack of engagement from the broader U of T community as motivation for the move. Despite efforts made through social media, Hodnett explained that “none of that made much of a difference at all.”
Hodnett was re-appointed to the ombudsperson position for an additional year after a three-year appointment ended last June.
“I’ve been at U of T since 1975 in one capacity or another, mostly as a professor, but also as a graduate student and now as ombudsperson,” Hodnett said. “I still find navigating all the various websites and finding out whom I should contact about a particular issue, a challenge.”
Hodnett and Secretary of the Governing Council Sheree Drummond decided to combine the roles of Assistant Secretary of Governing Council with Ombuds Officer — the positions are filled on the Campus Council at both UTM and UTSC.
“There’s no conflict of interest,” she said. “There’s no administrative connection here, so we can keep everything very confidential and within our office mandate.”
Rena Prashad is the Interim Director of Governance and Assistant Secretary of the Governing Council at UTSC. At UTM, Cindy Ferencz Hammond is the Director of Governance and Assistant Secretary of Governing Council. Both agreed to fill the Ombuds Officer role for the announced expansion and were trained by Hodnett for the position over the summer.
The appointment for UTSG took longer consideration. Hodnett explained that the job description had to be similar to those on the other campuses and also required looking through a number of applicants. In mid-November, Dr. Kristi Gourlay filled the position of Assistant Secretary of Governing Council and Ombuds Officer for UTSG. Gourlay is the former Manager of the Office of Student Academic Integrity.
On the topic of the university-mandated leave of absence policy, Hodnett confirmed that the annual review of the conditions under which the policy was applied will take place in coordination with her office.
“Our focus, as I said before, is unfairness,” she said. “We take that very, very seriously. I’ve written in previous annual reports [about] my awareness of the challenges posed by having the accessibility issues related to students with significant mental health problems. And there is no black and white here.”