Over the course of a year, the Ombudsperson makes many suggestions regarding policy and practice, often in the context of a specific situation. Many are made informally, in discussion or an email; only a small number are made in writing.
Suggestions made to clarify information:
- that rules governing internships in the Faculty of Science be reworded, so it will be clear that taking courses "at Western" means that the student must be physically present – not living out of London and taking distance studies courses;
- that in the Faculty of Law, information about how courses taken on exchange will be reflected on student transcripts should be made clear to all parties in advance of an exchange.
Suggestions or recommendations made for change:
- that certain USC Policies be reviewed to make them and their associated procedures consistent, seamless and fair (Community Standards Policy, Clubs Policy, Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy);
- that parking privileges for certain student groups be reviewed to ensure fairness and consistency;
- that Services for Students with Disabilities be promoted differently, or renamed, to make it clear that it also serves students with chronic medical conditions, many of whom do not think of themselves as having a disability and thus fail to avail themselves of the service;
- that the Administration continue its dialogue with faith groups on campus so that groups requiring prayer space or other facilities can be properly accommodated;
- that class averages and other statistical measures about sets of grades be made available to students as a matter of policy, unless there is a sound reason to withhold the information.
In addition, the Ombudsperson pursued two projects, one arising from issues related to the Student Code of Conduct and the other to observations about the difficulties of making good decisions in some academic situations.
Student Code of Conduct
Over time, the Ombudsperson has met with a number of students about whom complaints were made under the Student Code. I offer the following observations:
- Some of these students did not read the Student Code of Conduct, despite receiving a letter from their Dean or the Vice-Provost which enclosed the Code, made detailed reference to the Code, and indicated clearly that the complaint against the student was a serious matter;
- Some students had considerable difficulty understanding the seriousness of their behaviour, or imagining that they could have behaved otherwise;
- Some students were devastated when they realized the harm and suffering their behaviour had caused to others;
- The cost to the students was high, ie, they were sometimes suspended from the University for lengthy periods of time and sometimes lost credit for the year in which the offence(s) took place.
So, this first project was to encourage the University to develop ways to communicate to students the importance of refraining from certain kinds of behaviour, while demonstrating alternative and acceptable forms of behaviour. Specific behaviours that have lead to serious problems:
- anonymous emails or other anonymous messages
- explicit, burdensome or presumptuous messages, whether or not they were anonymous (example: descriptions of sex acts)
- stalking behaviours
- ignoring hints and /or explicit requests to cease and desist
- sexual assault
Anonymity appeals to those who are too shy to speak with their own voice or who fear rejection, but it is important to remember that, although anonymity seems to protect and shelter the shy person, it is never romantic and is usually distasteful or very scary for the recipient.
Campus groups are currently considering how best to communicate these important messages to potential offenders, victims and bystanders in order to reduce the incidence and impact of this kind of offence.
Academic Administrators' Handbook
Some of the practices and problems which the Ombudsperson observed occasionally when reviewing academic decisions lead her to the view that insufficient support and guidance might be available, especially to newly appointed decision makers. Many institutions have handbooks for academic administrators, and, indeed, Western used to have such a handbook. There is considerable support for this project.