An annual report released by Ontario ombudsman, Paul Dubé, last Wednesday highlighted changes in the jurisdiction of the ombudsman which became effective last January.
The ombudsman is an officer of the Provincial Legislature who is independent of political and government parties. According to the Ombudsman Act, the ombudsman considers the application of the principles of academic freedom when considering a complaint about a university.
Since January 2016, the ombudsman has reviewed 92 university cases, seven of which have been from the University of Toronto.
“This meant the number of organizations we oversee doubled in the past year—from 500-plus to more than 1,000—presenting both an enormous opportunity and an enormous challenge,” stated Dubé in the report.
Dubé also described this mandate expansion as “historic,” and says that some parties were “apprehensive” of the new challenges that this expansion will bring.
“The challenge was that many—including many stakeholders in those areas—were unfamiliar with our role and function and, as a result, somewhat apprehensive about our new mandate,” he wrote.
In order to handle the expanded jurisdiction, the Ombudsman Office has increased interaction with universities.
“Our Office conducted extensive outreach with university stakeholders, including the Council of Ontario Universities, student and faculty associations, and university ombudsman offices to explain how we work and to gather information about how each university resolves issues internally,” read the report. “This included conducting a survey of universities across the province and hosting a one-day symposium for university ombudsmen and complaints staff in November 2015.”
Other responsibilities that the ombudsman handles include ensuring equality in all procedures with rational outcomes for students and staff members at university.
According to the report, the ombudsman will take complaints, create informal inquiries to carry out formal assessments, then draw a conclusion and recommend a change to the university procedure. However, the ombudsman and their office cannot overrule a decision, nor deal with any issues regarding student unions or governments.
The Ombudsman Office also works with resolving issues for members working or representing the university, if they raise concern over a wrongdoing of the university.
In regards to financial aid issues that are not resolved in the university’s financial aid office, one should first communicate with the Student Financial Assistance Branch at the Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities.
Through email, web request for an assistance form, or by phone, a scheduled meeting is set up via phone or in person.
The Ombudsman Office has been providing impartial assistance to other organizations in Ontario since its creation in 1975. Its jurisdiction also expanded to include school boards in September 2015.