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Changes to formerly troubled ombuds office yield positive results

By Fabian Mayer, March 29 2016 —

After a rocky couple of years, the ombuds office has made numerous changes in an attempt to improve its services. The office provides students with impartial counsel, dealing mostly with academic issues.

The Students’ Union threatened to withdraw its portion of the office’s funding last March due to student complaints about ineffective service. The university has since taken over funding the office in its entirety.

The office has also been renamed from the ombudsperson’s office to the student ombuds office. Former ombudsperson Duncan MacDonald was replaced by Kevin Wiens and the website now allows for online appointment booking. The MacKimmie Block 207 office has also been renovated.

Students’ Union vice-president academic Stephan Guscott said the changes have been positive.

“The reporting and the quality of service that students are experiencing [are better],” Guscott said. “There’s much better communication between our two offices, which I’m really excited to see.”

University of Calgary vice-provost student experience Susan Barker is now responsible for the office. She said in an e-mail that student concerns played a role, but claimed the SU’s “threat of withdrawing funding was not a direct factor.”

“Both the SU and GSA had raised concerns with the previous model through the ombuds advisory committee and we definitely took their feedback very seriously,” Barker said.

The office has moved locations four times in the past two years.  Wiens said the new permanent location has been one of the most positive changes.

“[I’m] trying to rebrand myself and rebrand the office as being an accessible open safe space for students,” Wiens said.

Wiens deals mostly with academic misconduct, academic appeals and supervisory concerns of graduate students. Wiens said it’s important for students to know the limits of his office.

“I’m not an advocate for the student and I don’t defend the institution, but I really try to help whatever the student issue is forward to a good resolution,” Wiens said.

Guscott said the SU has seen a major improvement in the service the office provides to students.

“There haven’t been any students that have come back from the ombuds office and had anything negative to say or that it wasn’t meeting their needs,” Guscott said.

He also claims the SU does not have less input into how the office is run due to no longer contributing funds.

Despite the changes, Wiens said the same number of students are using the office as in previous years. However, he believes those statistics are misleading, as students may be getting the help they need elsewhere and don’t need to resort to the ombuds office.

“Part of what I’m really striving for is to promote a fair and just campus community and help educate faculty and staff on what they can be doing differently to help students,” Wiens said.

The ombuds office will host an open house on April 7 from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

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