What is the Augustana Campus Ombuds?
The Augustana Campus Ombuds is a confidential service that strives to ensure that university processes related to students operate as fairly as possible. We offer information, advice, and support to students, faculty, and staff as they deal with academic, discipline, interpersonal, and financial issues related to student programs.
Ombudspersons are not advocates. We are neutral third parties in any dispute. When we act as advisor to one party in a problem, our goal is to find the best possible resolution within the rules of the University of Alberta.
What kind of issues does the Augustana Campus Ombuds advise on?
The Augustana Campus Ombuds provides clients with information on University policy; referrals to appropriate departments or services; advice on what options and courses of action are open to them, and assistance in preparing documents and arguments for appeals and hearings. Some of the many types of cases we deal with are grade appeals, student and applicant discipline, academic standing (requirement to withdraw, probation, appeals, etc.), student-supervisor conflicts, breakdowns in graduate programs, conflicts between students or with professors, intellectual property issues, professional practice concerns, and residence disputes.
How does the Augustana Campus Ombuds help resolve conflict?
We help to mediate disputes and can help teach peer mediation practices. Members of the Augustana Campus Ombuds often speak to departments and other groups on campus about ethical issues, resolving conflicts, student-supervisor relations, and any other topic that we deal with regularly or they request. In addition, the Augustana Campus Ombuds participates in the development of University regulations and reports to the University on areas where there may be systemic unfairness in regulations or practices on campus. The Augustana Campus Ombuds also promotes professional development through an annual student advisors conference.
What are the limits of confidentiality?
Any discussion with an Ombudsperson is confidential. As such, even the fact you have met with an Ombudsperson is protected information, as is the content of that discussion. The Ombudsperson will not reveal that information or discuss your case in any identifiable way without your written permission. That confidentiality means that even people who are superior to us in the hierarchies of the University, the Student Union, and the Graduate Students’ Association cannot access our files or ask us to discuss your case without your permission.
There are three circumstances under which confidentiality can be breached. First, if our records are subpoenaed by a court we have to provide them. Second, a person whose name is mentioned in a file can request to see the file through the FOIPP officer. You also have the right to FOIPP our files. Finally, if we believe that a person is a danger to him or her self or to someone else, we are legally obligated to alert the appropriate authorities to deal with the situation.
Can parents of students use the Augustana Campus Ombuds?
Yes and no. We are happy to talk to parents about general issues of policy and how they are applied at the University of Alberta. We can even talk about common strategies used in dealing with problems. What we cannot talk about is the specifics of your child's case. As a university student and as an adult, they have the legal right to be treated as such. Any information they provide to us and any conversation we have with them are confidential. Your child can sign a legal waiver to waive that confidentiality in your case but without it we will not be able to discuss any specifics.
What can the Augustana Campus Ombuds do for Faculty and Staff?
The Augustana Campus Ombuds can provide advice to members of the University community in how they deal with students and how to protect the fairness and integrity of their decisions. We can alert them to additional resources they may be able to access on campus, help develop their skills as instructors or administrators, or help them to deal with unusual or complicated situations. For example, we can give advice to supervisors on effective ways of managing their relationship with their graduate students. We could also offer guidance to a faculty member who is facing a complex discipline case to ensure that proper procedures are followed.
What does an Ombudsperson do while dealing with a typical case?
While every case is unique, there are common things that happen in most of them. First, we will ask you to tell us about your problem. We will ask further questions until we understand the context of your case. We will explain what university regulations apply and what options may be available. They will also likely talk to you about alternative explanations in a dispute - to try and help you view it from the other person’s perspective as well so you can make the best informed decision possible.
We won’t tell you what to do or make a decision for you. We may make recommendations on potential courses of action. We will help you explore options and let you know the most likely consequences of your decisions. The decision is, however, ultimately up to you.
If you are being called into a discipline or academic meeting with an Associate Dean, Discipline Officer, or other decision maker, we can help you to prepare for that meeting. We can also attend the meeting and facilitate discussion. It is important that you speak to the decision maker directly. We will do our best to promote a constructive conversation. We won't intervene unless there is a procedural issue, communication is breaking down, or you have forgotten a key point that you had planned to include, or if there is an issue of fundamental fairness that has to be addressed. We will never contradict you if you change your mind about information you revealed to us privately.
For cases involving formal written materials, e.g. petitions for requirement to withdraw, appeals of discipline decisions, we will talk through what you have to do, provide resources and examples where they are available, and assist in editing any drafts you write. We will not write them for you this is your petition and must be heard from your perspective.
We can be a valuable resource in any formal hearing - University Appeal Board, Faculty Appeal Committee, Practice Review Board, etc. Before the hearing, we can help you to develop your argument, to prepare any written submissions, to select and to prepare to question witnesses, and to make sure you are apprised of your rights. At the hearing, we can provide moral support, give you advice on the proceedings, and assist you in the management of your case.