Who can use an Ombudsman?
Students can access an Ombudsman when they are dealing with academic, discipline, interpersonal, and financial issues.
Faculty and staff can receive advice from an Ombudsman on how to deal with students and protect the fairness and integrity of their decisions. We can also refer to additional services, help develop their skills as instructors or administrators, or help them deal with unusual or complicated situations.
When should I use the Ombuds Office?
Ideally, you should consider coming to the Office of the Student Ombuds as soon as you identify a problem and can't readily come up with a solution. Many problems become worse over time. Something that could have been resolved by getting some simple advice or talking to the right person may become difficult or even impossible to fix when left to too late. Most importantly, see us before deadlines have passed.
What kind of issues does the Office of the Student Ombuds advise on?
There are many types of issues we advise on, including: grade appeals, student and applicant discipline, academic standing (e.g. required to withdraw, probation, appeals, etc.), student-supervisor conflicts, breakdowns in graduate programs, conflicts between students and/or professors, intellectual property issues, professional practice concerns, and residence disputes.
What does the Ombudsman do while dealing with a 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.
Are there things the Ombuds Office can’t help me with?
We cannot advocate for you or be your spokesperson. We also do not deal with disputes that faculty or staff have with the University of Alberta or with processes external to the University.
What about 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 Office of the Student 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 Office of the Student Ombuds do for Faculty and Staff?
The Office of the Student 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.
Does it cost anything to use the Office of the Student Ombuds?
Where can I get help if I’m experiencing a lot of stress in both my academic and personal life?
There are many services and resources available to you on campus and in the Edmonton community help you deal with academic and personal stress. If you are a client, we can refer you to services that will be helpful. For more information on campus services, visit Current Students.