RE: Ombuds Waterloo? Sept. 19

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Student advocacy has been an issue high on the priority list for the Graduate Student Association (GSA) for the past few years. Our efforts to find a solution on campus for the apparent lack of support in this area have taken into consideration the glaring absence of an Office of the Ombudsperson at Waterloo.


Your recent article “Ombuds Waterloo?” is therefore timely, and I would like to take this opportunity to inform our community of where we are at in filling this void.


Back in 2012, we surveyed all graduate students to ascertain the types and depths of issues we are facing, such as student-advisor relationships, TAs, funding, etc. We have published a short version of our findings in this survey, as well as recommendations on what we should do about it, on our website (https://uwaterloo.ca/graduate-student-association/services/student-advocacy-project), which I invite everyone to read.


In brief, we recommended the establishment of some form of a “student advocacy office” at Waterloo, which would serve as a resource for students to seek assistance in resolving disputes. Chris Read, the university’s associate provost (students) has been very supportive of this project.


It was important to us that this office be viewed as something different than a traditional ombudsperson. We need a campus solution that doesn’t just provide for investigation, but has the mandate to intervene.


Students are a rather vulnerable population, and advocacy is needed to bring balance. As the working group has moved toward making this project a reality, we have determined that one component of this solution is to resurrect the old Office of the Ombudsperson at Waterloo.


This would provide impartial investigation and record-keeping. Each of the representative organizations on campus (GSA, Feds, Faculty and Staff Associations) may then have an “advocate,” a point person to assist, guide and (of course) advocate for individuals in resolving disputes.


The province has put forth the idea of granting Ontario’s ombudsman oversight of universities, where if disputes are not resolved locally, our government will be hearing about them. That’s obviously not ideal, and it would behoove our institution to ensure that disputes are resolved here and not by the province.


I thank Sepehr Mohaddes for raising awareness of this important issue. However, as with most big issues, it will take time to resolve.


 

Robert Henderson
PHD candidate, Physics
Former President, GSA
VP, Student Affairs

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