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Developing Terms of Reference for the Ombuds:
There is considerable diversity in practice among Canadian College and University Ombudspersons. Some Offices are dedicated to serving only students, while others attend to the concerns of all groups on campus, including faculty and staff. Some of the Offices receive support entirely from either the Student Union or the University, while others are jointly funded by a number of groups. Ombudspersons, themselves, may be drawn from the faculty or staff of the University or may be students who work in the Office on a part-time basis. Notwithstanding these differences, most College and University Ombuds Offices in Canada are founded on the same basic principles, namely; independence, impartiality, confidentiality, the ability to investigate and recommend, the ability to promote change, informality, accessibility, accountability and a commitment to fair treatment and fair process (1). The Terms of Reference that govern these Offices clearly reflect both a commonality of principles and a diversity of practice. To this end, these documents contain many common themes but the specific provisions are often based on the unique nature of each Office and the community it serves. Ombudspersons pay close attention to their Terms of Reference and often rely on these documents to guide their practice and, if necessary, to defend their actions.
Bearing in mind the importance of the Terms of Reference, ACCUO members have long discussed the possibility of developing “model” terms to be used by new Offices and by others interested in revising and improving their existing Terms of Reference. However, it was felt that this approach might be too rigid, given the broad range of practices and the desire to produce a useful and practical resource tool. Therefore, it was decided that rather than produce one set of “model” terms, we would identify the fundamental “elements” that one might, ideally, wish to include in a College or University Ombuds Office’s Terms of Reference. Where possible, we would indicate how each “element” supports one of the underlying principles (e.g. independence, confidentiality etc.) upon which our Offices are based. A selection of sample clauses, drawn directly from members Terms of Reference, would be included to demonstrate how the fundamental elements might be incorporated in different settings. Where appropriate, we have added some commentary and indicated which sample clauses most closely reflect the classical ombuds model. This document(2) is intended to be a “work in progress” that can be easily amended to include new ideas and clauses.
1. These underlying principles are based on the model of practice that most Canadian College and University Ombuds Offices aspire to – namely, the classical legislative ombuds role.
2. This document was developed by Shelley Lancaster, Ombuds at McMaster University and Marie-José Rivest, Ombudsman at University of Montreal and is modeled on an Occasional Paper by Dean M. Gottehrer entitled, “Ombudsman Legislative Resource Documents” (March 1998). The Occasional Paper (#65) may be obtained from the International Ombudman Institute, Faculty of Law, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2H5, Canada