CASES AND ISSUES
All cases are described so as to protect the identities of those involved. This is in keeping with the Ombudsperson's commitment to confidentiality. In some cases, an astute reader who has had contact with the office will recognize his or her situation. Please remember that some details may be varied on purpose to protect identities, and that summaries of any person's experience inevitably seem to distort it.
"Advice" cases account for 57% of our cases. In these situations the individual is supported through information and advice but no intervention takes place. Approximately one-third of advice cases involve more than one contact with the student, and in some cases, many contacts. What is the value to such students in coming to the Ombudsperson? I used to wonder about this myself. I have come to believe that what most students appreciate is the opportunity to be heard and understood, while being left free to make their own decisions.
Typical support situations
Many "intervention" cases also involve advice, information, role play, problem solving, venting and reframing of issues. Here is an example:
WHEN THINGS GO WRONG
Sometimes the University makes mistakes. A few people believe that the University should never make mistakes, and therefore should pay a very high price when it errs. This is not the view of the Ombudsperson. Mistakes, unfortunately, occur in every life, and everyone, as they say, is "entitled" to make them.
However, there is an appropriate way to respond when it can be shown that a mistake has occurred. I am impressed with the forthright response from some areas of the University, for example, the Office of the Registrar. The following case from Student Financial Services is just one example of their approach.
Late Fee A student was charged a late fee of $100 when he did not pay an amount owing from summer tuition until receiving his fall OSAP payment. He appealed, explaining that he had spoken to Student Financial Services prior to the deadline and been told his payment plan was acceptable. He waited more than a month for a response to his appeal, then queried the matter in person and learned the appeal had been denied. However, his appeal form could not be found, so Student Financial Services was unable to give him a reason for the decision, since only the decision, not the reason for it, was available on the computerized record. He was told a letter would have been mailed to him with the decision. He said he had never received a letter. He wondered why he hadn't been sent an email instead. He completed a new appeal form, as was suggested, and came to the Ombuds Office because he believed he was entitled to be told the reason for the decision. The Ombudsperson queried Student Financial Services to find out how late fee appeals were decided.
Eventually the student's original appeal form was found (it had been misfiled) and it turned out the letter he should have been sent had not, in fact, been sent at all. The student emailed me to say: "Today in the afternoon, I got one very kind phone call from the Student Financial Services office....She apologized sincerely on the phone and I accepted her apology." The student was satisfied with this outcome. However, a few days later there was even more good news – his appeal was successful after all, and the $100 penalty was reversed.
The Irish Office of the Ombudsman has a document on its website (www.ombudsman.ie) entitled: "Redress – Getting it wrong and putting it right" which states: "Explanations and apologies should include the following:
TIPS FOR STUDENTS
Email We see many emails from students, both those addressed to the Ombuds Office and those addressed to others, for example instructors and academic counsellors. And we hear about many emails that students or others have retained, and about many others which students have not saved. Most individuals seem to manage email without problems, but these suggestions may be helpful.
Academic obligations If you treat your academic program like a job you want to keep, you are much more likely to be successful in it! If you're going to be absent, it is a courtesy to report in. If you cannot meet a deadline for a good reason, alert those who need to know in advance. Registering for courses isn't just agreeing to pay the tuition – it's agreeing to do the work.
A student who is older than the average student said one instructor had told her she didn't understand what he'd asked for "because she's old". Our practice is to put flags on cases when certain issues are raised. Anything which sounds like it could be discrimination or harassment on a prohibited ground is flagged as an equity issue, and the individual is routinely informed about the mandate of Equity Services or the equivalent service at an Affiliated College.
Situations last year involved allegations of student to student harassment, faculty member student harassment, discrimination on disability grounds, and hate literature.
In the course of a year countless students fall ill, many around tests or exams, and instructors, chairs of departments, academic counsellors and deans are put in the often difficult position of having to decide whether a student's medical documentation is adequate or not. How do you decide whether to permit a special exam to a student whose note simply states: "Student seen today in clinic for medical reasons"? In other cases, medical letters go beyond what is strictly useful, and try to tell the University what to do. Here are two examples of situations involving medical notes.
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