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Ombuds office overhauled after Students’ Union threatens to withdraw funding

By Fabian Mayer, May 21 2015 —

The University of Calgary has restructured the student ombuds office after the Students’ Union threatened to withdraw funding because of ineffective service.

The university will hire a new ombudsperson and students may be employed in the office.

The ombuds office is an impartial resource for students seeking advice in dealing with the university. They handle academic issues like student appeals and grade reappraisals.

The SU sent a letter to the university in March saying they would withdraw their funding of the office in the fall unless their concerns were addressed. SU vice-president academic Stephan Guscott said students’ needs were not being met.

“It necessitated us evaluating if the office was providing enough value for what we were providing in terms of funding,” Guscott said.

U of C vice-provost student experience Susan Barker said the letter was one of several factors that caused the restructuring.

“It did play a role in us rethinking that,” Barker said. “In order to deliver the best possible service to our community we needed to rethink the model.”

The previous ombudsperson, Duncan McDonald, is no longer with the university. Student representatives have not been involved in the restructuring process, but will take part in the hiring of a new ombudsperson.

“Once we have a new ombudsperson in place, a broader consultation will take place with the SU and Graduate Students’ Association,” Barker said.

Students may also get hired at the office itself.

“Instead of having just one person we would actually have some student employees too,” Barker said. “That will certainly help address some of the concerns from the SU and GSA.”

Guscott said the ombuds office is a vital service for students and he’s pleased with the actions the university is taking.

“We’re really happy to see that there has been restructuring because students had told us that their needs weren’t being met,” Guscott said. “From students that I’ve spoken with so far, the feedback is positive, so I’m optimistic for the future.”

Prior to its restructuring, the SU, the GSA and university administration jointly funded the service. The university will now fund the office alone.

“We realized that we needed to take a little bit more of a leadership position to fund an ombuds office appropriately,” Barker said.

Barker added that many universities in Canada fund the service without help from student organizations. She doesn’t think a lack of monetary contribution will lessen the SU’s stake in the office.

“The new funding model doesn’t change any position with regard to input,” Barker said.

Guscott believes the SU can still have a strong voice even if it does not contribute financially. The SU contributed roughly $30,000 per year to the office.

“Having that money freed up is a really big opportunity to support other programs and services,” Guscott said. 

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