Ombuds Waterloo?

The University of Waterloo does not have an ombudsperson! To me, that is more than a surprise; it is a shame!

An ombudsperson (&ldquo;public advocate&rdquo;) is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or violation of rights. Through there are multiple historical examples of ombudsperson from China, Korea, and the Roman Empire, the modern form of ombudsperson started in 1809 in Sweden when the Swedish Parliamentary Ombudsman was initiated by the Swedish government of the time. Today in Canada, nine provinces and one territory have parliamentary ombudspersons. Many corporations and federal offices, including Crown Corporations such as <em>CBC</em> and Canada Post, have their own ombudspersons. Most of the major colleges and universities of the country too have ombudspersons &ndash; well, except for UW and a few others.

I first came to learn about ombudspersons in a case of maladministration by a department admin while doing my master&rsquo;s at Ryerson. I took my complaint, a matter of fairness and equal treatment, to the university&rsquo;s ombudsperson. I had to see the ombudsperson for less than half an hour before she took my case and contacted the department. And to my surprise, the department took it rather seriously! In fact, the person was frustrated to see that I had taken the issue to the ombuds office. It had worried them as they thought this could harm their image with the ombuds office, and the university &ndash; that was when I realized the power and the significance the ombudspersons. The ombudsperson handled my complaint really well. As part of their &ldquo;deal&rdquo; with the ombuds office, the department created policies around the issue to ensure fair and equal treatment of the students in the future (I always want to take partial credit for those policies).

But here at UW, there is no such thing as an ombudsperson &ndash; at least not anymore. I was surprised, and rather disappointed, to find this out. The last sign of a UW ombuds office that I could trace online dates back to the 1998-99 academic calendar. There is also a related job description on the Human Resources website, &ldquo;effective&rdquo; as of October 2007. And The Ombuds Blog has reported in June 2010 the University renaming the Office of Ombudsperson to Student Resource Office. But the latter does not seem to exist either.

According to the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons, over 30 Canadian academic institutions have ombuds offices, with roughly two-thirds serving faculty and staff as well as students. A quick online search reveals that the majority of the universities in Ontario do have ombudspersons. I took a stab at contacting those offices at the email addresses one can easily find by simply googling the institution&rsquo;s name plus &ldquo;ombudsperson.&rdquo; The table below summarizes the results of my email correspondence.

That there is no ombudsperson on our campus is only one of the symptoms of a fundamental problem. UW seems to suffer a lack of a proper understanding of the students-university relations. After almost a year at UW, I have a (deeply troubling) feeling that the university tends to treat us as its &ldquo;custumers.&rdquo; But even so, the &ldquo;customer service&rdquo; is rather poor!


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