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GSA-UW Ombuds Office Advocacy

GSA-UW Ombuds Office Advocacy

This work is part of a multi-year collaboration of various student groups and student leaders past and present on the University of Waterloo campus.

“Sometimes students are considered to be less than truthful and more opportunistic than other populations at the university and this becomes yet another barrier to overcome.”

- UBC Office of the Ombudsperson for Students Annual Report 2019 [1]

What is an Ombudsperson?

An Ombudsperson is an independent, arms-length, and confidential resource for the students within the community. Functions of an ombudsperson in college and university settings vary. 

The key functions we hope to implement at the University of Waterloo include: 

  1. Advice and interpretation of university policies; how policies apply to an individuals’ situation, 
  2. Data tracking and reporting; bringing attention to issues that students face over and over again as “friction points” in the University system to be addressed, 
  3. Investigation; the ability to follow up on credible complaints and authority to collect information from the university about what happened, and, 
  4. Recommendations; an avenue to point out at a high level and provide possible solutions for issues discovered through data tracking and investigation activities

“The creation of an ombuds office is a commitment to developing community around shared values of fairness, equity and respect. This is especially relevant when postsecondary institutions embrace diversity, collaboration and global connections as defining values and strategic goals.”

- Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons, Toolbox [2]

The Graduate Student Association-University of Waterloo (GSA-UW) is committed to fostering a supportive and appropriate environment for all graduate students. Investigations conducted by the GSA and WUSA explored the models of many university ombudsperson roles across Canada, compared functions commonly offered with roles already on the University of Waterloo campus, and considered known issues encountered by graduates and undergraduates.

The following is an excerpt from the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons [2]: 

Ombudsman is a Swedish word meaning “agent” or “commissioner”. The concept is centuries old, dating back to ancient Germanic tribes (Kircheiner, 1983). Research has identified other precursors of the ombudsman in several cultures. The birth of the modern ombudsman concept occurred in Sweden in 1809 when the parliament created a neutral “agent of the folk or people”, independent of the government, to represent the citizenry who had disputes with the government. 

The concept of ombudsman came to North America in 1962 with the first unsuccessful bills asking for the creation of a Canadian federal ombudsman. The first ombudsman position in an academic setting was created by students at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada in 1965; the first Canadian provincial ombudsman was established in Alberta in 1967. From there, ombuds offices spread in Canada and the USA, first in government and in academia (late 60’s – 70’s), and later also in the corporate sector (late 70’s – 80’s). By the 1990’s, ombuds offices were common in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

The following is an excerpt from the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons [2]:

  • Investigates complaints of unfair treatment in an impartial and objective manner
  • Is concerned with the right of every person to be treated fairly
  • Has the power to recommend solutions when complaints are well-founded
  • When complaints are unfounded, explains why
  • Acts as a source of information and advice on rules and procedures
  • Helps to identify systemic problems and weaknesses in institutional policy and practice

The following is an excerpt from the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons [2]:

  • To conveys the institution’s commitment to being fair  
  • promotes a constructive approach to conflict resolution
  • To help avoid long and costly litigation
  • To help formal processes run more smoothly
  • To provide a user-friendly source of information about policies, rights and avenues of redress
  • To help identify policy weaknesses and gaps in the system

How Does Waterloo Compare?

A red circle with "12th" written inside.

Ranking in Student Services - Macleans 2022 Canada’s Top Comprehensive Schools [3] ​

A red circle with "1/6" written inside.

Ontario U6 research intensive universities that do not have an ombuds office [4]​

A red circle with "3/15" written inside.

Canadian U15 research intensive universities that do not have an ombuds office [4]​

Rooted in Concern for Student Mental Health

2017 President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health (PAC-SMH) [5]:

Recommendation 12: Expand the range of options for students who are having challenges in interactions with their supervisors or instructors. For example, consider the model of an ombudsperson employed at some institutions with functions such as support, advocacy, and tracking data/patterns.

The GSA Ombuds Advocacy Journey So Far:

Image Alt Text: A visual timeline representation summarizing key events in the ombudsperson advocacy in the GSA-UW. Title: “Pathway to Date”, Date Range: 2017-2022. All items on the timeline are listed below in “Summary of Events and Relevant Links to Documentation”, along with more detail describing each item.

1. Winter 2017: WUSA Council Adopts Policy 46: Ombudsperson Office [6];

BIRT the Federation of Students calls upon the University of Waterloo to establish an ombudsman’s office;​

BIFRT The Federation of Students requests that the Federation be part of any consultation conducted on the establishment of an Ombudsman’s office.​

2. Winter 2018: CoSMH Assumes Responsibility for Implementation of PAC-SMH Recommendations

The full set of PAC-SMH recommendations [5], including Recommendation 12 referencing an ombudsperson office, are received by the Committee on Student Mental Health, the PAC-SMH recommendation implementation committee. 

3. Spring 2020: CoSMH Delegates Recommendation 12 to a Working Group & Working Group Returns with Recommendations

Due to an inability of the CoSMH membership to reach a consensus on Recommendation 12, it was referred to a working group chaired by Katherine Arnold (Undergraduate Student Representative, CoSMH) and Jeremy De Boer (Senior Case Consultant Conflict Management & Human Rights, HERI) to discuss and return with metrics and next steps [7]. Their concluding presentation can be found here. 

4. Fall 2020: GSA Council Resolution in Support For On-Campus Ombudsperson

The GSA Council receives information on the history and the role of the ombudsperson, approves GSA advocacy towards the implementation of an Ombudsperson, and resolves for the GSA President’s letter of support [8]

5. Winter 2021: The Committee of Presidents (Faculty Societies) unanimously in support for an Ombudsman’s Office

A presentation on Recommendation 12 and an Ombuds Office implementation was provided to the WUSA Committee of Presidents by then WUSA President and CoSMH undergraduate representatives. See this presentation here [9]

6. Winter 2021:CoSMH hands-off Recommendation 12 to GSA and WUSA advocacy

Per the concluding CoSMH report [10]

“The Provost; Associate Provost, Students; WUSA; and GSA will continue to work together to determine whether UWaterloo will establish an ombudsperson office, and if so, how it will be funded, structured, governed, and held accountable.”

7. Winter 2021: EngSoc Joint Annual General Meeting adopt advocacy Policy Stance in support of Ombudsperson’s Office  

Without Opposition, the undergraduate Waterloo Engineering Society adopted the following resolution: 

Policy Stance: The University of Waterloo should create an Ombudsperson’s Office or a similar student serving structure within the University of Waterloo.

Recommendations: The Waterloo Engineering Society recommends that the University of Waterloo follow WUSA Policy 46, titled Ombudsperson Office.

Link to Meeting Minutes [11]

8. Fall 2021:GSA and WUSA Letter of Support and Proposal for an Office of the Ombudsperson at the University of Waterloo 

GSA and WUSA presidents sign a letter “Support and Proposal for an Office of the Ombudsperson at the University of Waterloo” [12] calling for the implementation of such an office. The letter included a Role Outline detailing the desired functions and mission of the role. The letter was sent to the University Administration. 

9. Fall 2021: GSRC Resolution supporting  the creation of an arms’ length, advocacy pathway to the standards of and possibly in the structure of an ombudsperson office

BIRT GSRC supports the creation of an arms’ length, advocacy pathway to the standards of and possibly in the structure of an ombudsperson office, for students, the title, scope and function will be determined through consultation between WUSA, GSA, and the University Administration. [13]

10. Winter 2022: The GSA-UW and WUSA begin monthly negotiations with the University Administration.

The objective of these meetings is to develop the details of the role and scope of the ombuds office and shape the work of the office according to students’ needs. The goal is that, through these conversations, we have a job posting created by the University Administration by the end of Fall 2022 with strong student associations engagement.

What's New?

Check back here for new updates. 

March 2022

  • GSA-UW, WUSA and University Admin have met twice so far this term to explore the potential scope of the Ombuds Role on the University of Waterloo campus. Currently, we are negotiating the gap between the initial student proposal for the role[12]  and the University Administration vision. Good progress and solutions have been discussed. A document guides the discussions and records the progress of the discussions. This document will be eventually used as a reference to official determinations. 
  • Recently student representatives have contacted the Association of Canadian Campus and University Ombudspersons (ACCUO) and have received good resources and set the tone for a good relationship in support of an Ombuds Office at the University of Waterloo.
  • The GSA presented the updated information of Ombuds discussions and next steps to the GSRC March Meeting (Graduate Student Relations Committee) for feedback and information. 

April 2022

  • GSA Policy Coordinator to seek feedback from GSA Council in preferred funding structures for the Ombuds office.

Frequently Asked Questions:

If you have any questions that you don’t see here, please feel welcome to contact gsa-policy@uwaterloo.ca! We’ll answer your question and expand the FAQ as we go.

Per the November 2020 Ombuds Research[4], Canada’s U15 research intensive universities and all universities in Ontario were considered. Waterloo is the only U15 university in Ontario without an Ombudsperson. 

With Ombuds Offices: 

  • University of Alberta [U15]
  • Algoma University [Ontario]
  • University of British Columbia [U15]
  • Brock University [Ontario]
  • University of Calgary [U15]
  • Carleton University [Ontario]
  • Dalhousie University  [U15]
  • Université Laval [U15]
  • Lakehead University [Ontario]
  • McGill University  [U15]
  • McMaster University  [U15] [Ontario]
  • Université de Montréal [U15]
  • University of Ottawa [U15] [Ontario]
  • Queen’s University  [U15] [Ontario]
  • Ryerson University [Ontario]
  • University of Toronto [U15] [Ontario]
  • Western University  [U15] [Ontario]
  • York University [Ontario]

[U15] Without: University of Manitoba, University of Saskatchewan, University of Waterloo 

[Ontario] Without: University of Waterloo, University of Guelph (Guelph has a Hospitality Ombudsperson but not an institution ombudsperson), Laurentian University, Nipissing University, OCAD, Ontario Tech University, Trent University, Wilfrid Laurier University

Sure it does! But so does this other office? And this other office does that function, but only some of the time? 

Our University is structured as a series of interlocking offices which handle some parts of some problems, and half the battle for a student, often in crisis, is getting to the right office. We’re hoping that the Ombuds doesn’t replace any of these functions, but helps eliminate the hours and additional stress a student will waste bouncing from office to office, person to person. Think of it like a phone book that listens to your situation without judgment and provides personalized recommendations for your case. If your case were simple, you wouldn’t be in this situation. You still have to call the right number, but you know it’s the right number.

  1. Confidential. An Ombuds Office all student information and matters strictly confidential. No one will ever know that you met with and discussed your matter with the Ombuds unless you ask the Ombuds to intervene directly in your matter. An Ombuds cannot directly intervene without your invitation. So, you can contact them without worrying about any consequences. 
  2. Impartial & Independent. The office is set up to be specifically independent of the university administration. An Ombuds can be considered as an advisor focused on ensuring fairness and due process for those involved. We’re also working to ensure student representation in oversight to ensure meeting the needs of students.

You can trust that you can bring your concern to the Ombuds Office and you will be a) heard in confidentiality, b) the advice provided is solely motivated by ensuring fairness and due process.

Like similar-run services at the University of Waterloo, the goal is that when you need it there is no payment necessary. 

The funding structure of the Ombuds Office will be determined in collaboration with the University Administration, the GSA-UW and WUSA. Ombuds offices in Canadian post-secondary institutions fall into two categories: offices funded solely by the institution or offices jointly funded by the institution and the students. If an Ombuds fee is necessary, it will be billed with the regular student fees. Because of the Government of Ontario’s 2019 Student Choice Initiative [14], many universities in Ontario have published their fees, and so we have a reasonable idea of what this cost has been at other schools: 

September 2020 “Ombuds Levy” assessed at sample institutions with a joint institution and student funding:

  • $1.25 at Brock University, 
  • $1.50 at University of Ottawa,
  • Included in $14.94 “Academic Support Fee” at Western University,
  • $1.86 at Carleton University 
  1. Office of the Ombudsperson for Students, The University of British Columbia, https://ombudsoffice.ubc.ca/, [Accessed: 06/28/21]
  2. Toolbox – AOUCC
  3. Canada’s best Comprehensive universities: Rankings 2022 – Macleans.ca
  4. K.Arnold, “Ombuds Research” Author’s Note: Canada/Ontario Environmental Scan.  Completed for the Committee on Student Mental Health, Nov. 2020. OmBuds Research.xlsx
  5. President’s Advisory Committee on Student Mental Health: Executive Summary and Recommendations 
  6. Waterloo Undergraduate Student Association Policies Policy 46: Ombudsman’s Office, pg. 88.  
  7. K. Arnold, J. de Boer, “Recommendation 12 Working Group Updates” Committee on Student Mental Health Meeting #22. August 28, 2020 WG12 CoSMH Aug24 (Katherine Arnold).pptx
  8. Support For On-Campus Ombudsperson – Graduate Student Association – UW 
  9. K. Arnold, C. Moneme, A. Simpson, “Ombuds Advocacy at UW”, Committee of Presidents. January 27th, 2021. 1. COPS Ombuds Advocacy.pptx
  10. Committee on Student Mental Health – 2021 Implementation Report
  11. EngSoc JAGM 2021 Minutes https://app.box.com/s/xp0euapjenbu9zi34lkg326optpssa59
  12. GSA and WUSA Presidents: Support and Proposal for an Office of the Ombudsperson at the University of Waterloo WUSA_GSA_Ombuds_Proposal.pdf
  13. Minutes of the 28 September 2021 Meeting, Graduate Student Relations Committee https://sharepoint.uwaterloo.ca/sites/Sec/cmt/gsrc/202122%20Agenda%20and%20Materials/04%202021-10-26%20Meeting/GSRC%2026%20October%202021%20Agenda%20Package.pdf#%5B%7B%22num%22%3A1%2C%22gen%22%3A0%7D%2C%7B%22name%22%3A%22FitH%22%7D%2C792%5D 
  14. “Tuition Fee Framework and Ancillary Fee Guidelines – Publicly-Assisted Universities” (PDF). Published by the Government of Ontario. March 29, 2019.

Last Updated: July 18, 2022

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