Reports & Other Related Documents

Report of the University Ombudsperson to the Governing Council

For the period July 1, 1999 to June 30, 2000


Introduction

This annual report covers the period from July 1, 1999, to June 30, 2000. The report provides a statistical summary of the caseload for the year as well as comparisons with the previous three years, updates issues discussed in previous annual reports, and highlights specific cases and issues from this year that warrant attention or comment.

The Terms of Reference of the University of Toronto Ombudsperson, revised in 1998, give the Ombudsperson the responsibility to investigate, in an impartial fashion, complaints made by students or members of the teaching or administrative staffs against the University or against anyone in the University exercising authority, and to bring to the University's attention any gaps and inadequacies in existing policies and procedures. According to the Terms of Reference, the "Ombudsperson shall initiate an investigation only after attempts at redress through existing administrative channels have been concluded."

The Office is funded by the University and the Ombudsperson reports directly to the Governing Council. Because we offer complete confidentiality, operate from a perspective of impartiality and are accessible to all members of the University community, we are uniquely positioned to call attention to patterns of problems that might be developing across various divisions and to seek early resolution of issues that might otherwise not have been apparent.

The Terms of Reference require that the Office "make an annual report to the University community through the Governing Council." This mandate is evidence of the University's resolve to address shortfalls in policies and procedures. For a number of years the Governing Council has required a formal administrative response to the annual report of the Ombudsperson, thus promoting openness and accountability in dealing with issues and taking a collective responsibility for their resolution.

I. Office Operations and Resources

1. Staffing

I was appointed to a three-year term of office as Ombudsperson from July 1, 1998, to June 30, 2001, on a 50% basis. The Chairman and Vice-Chair of the Governing Council and the President approved supplemental funding again this year for ongoing administrative support. Linda Natale joined the Office as Secretary on a 50% basis as of July 1, 2000. The Chairman and Vice-Chair and the President also agreed to increase my part-time status to 60% in January of 2000 due to an increase in caseload. We are now able to provide year-round, full-day staffing (excluding vacation periods) of the Office on Mondays through Thursdays, with half-day staffing on Fridays.

2. Review/Appointment

The Governing Council last reviewed the resource support of the Office in June, 1996, when it approved a base budget reduction from $192,000 to $50,000. It is anticipated that budget and resource support will be addressed once again during the Governing Council's organizational review of the Office in the coming year, prior to the end of my term. According to the Terms of Reference, the "Office of the Ombudsperson shall be reviewed on a regular basis, coincident with the end of the incumbent's term, in a manner to be determined by the Executive Committee of the Governing Council."

3. Caseload

The Office of the Ombudsperson handled 334 complaints and inquiries from July 1, 1999, to June 30, 2000, representing 50 cases more than last year and the first increase in caseload since 1993. This increase may relate, in part, to improved visibility and accessibility resulting from our introduction of the Office's website last year. The website contributes to increased campus-wide awareness of the Office's service and location, and informs the University community's referral network about our mandate and jurisdiction. Prior to the introduction of the website, the main campus-wide communication method of the Office consisted of paid announcements, including the publication of the Ombudsperson's Annual Report and the Administrative Response, in campus newspapers. We have continued the practice of publishing the Annual Report and the Administrative Response in one late Fall edition of one campus newspaper. The cost of this is shared equally with the President's Office. In a later section of this Annual Report, I offer additional comments about the Office's website and its impact.

At the Governing Council's meeting last September, a member inquired about the Office's decrease in caseload since 1993 (see Appendix "B", Table 3). To better address this inquiry for the purposes of this year's Annual Report, I reviewed my predecessors' comments in their Annual Reports. The 1992/93 Annual Report states that the implications of budget reduction and revisions to the Terms of Reference were efforts to contain the caseload "by restricting somewhat the groups that had access" in compliance with a recommendation by the Governing Council's Review Committee. The 1993/94 and 1994/95 Annual Reports state that budget reductions resulted in the Office's withdrawal of paid advertising in campus newspapers and its reduction in staffing from 3 to 2.6 full time equivalency. The Reports highlighted possible implications of these changes: fewer "drop-in" clients, longer time delays in setting up initial meetings, and hesitancy on the part of complainants to leave messages on the answering machine which staff needed to rely on more frequently. According to the 1995/96 Annual Report, when approval was given in June, 1996, to reduce the Office's base budget support to $50,000, two committees were created on behalf of the Governing Council to oversee the transition to a part-time service, to consider ways of reducing the caseload and to bring forward for approval revised Terms of Reference.

At last September's meeting of the Governing Council, the President commented in response to the query about declining caseload. He referred to increased University resources having been directed to academic and financial counselling services across the three campuses and to the effectiveness of the University's Equity Offices. While it is not possible to pinpoint with certainty the major reasons for the decrease in caseload from 1993 to 1999, it is the case that this Office continues to rely on constructive, professional relationships with academic counselling staff and the Equity Officers, as well as many other University community members, for our referral network, whenever appropriate, and for the more extensive consultation often required in the resolution of our complainants' concerns. It is reasonable to assume that the availability of counselling services and of assistance through the Equity Offices has modified the number and kind of cases which come to the Ombudsperson's Office.

4. Terms of Reference

The new Terms of Reference for the Office of the University Ombudsperson took effect on April 30, 1998. The most substantive change concerned the provision of information to complainants about policies and procedures. Under the previous Terms of Reference, the Office would "serve as a general information centre for members of the University and others as needed about all situations and University procedures concerning which grievances may arise...". Under the new Terms, the Office's focus concerning the provision of information is on ensuring that information about policies, procedures, rights and responsibilities is adequately publicized. According to the new Terms: "The Ombudsperson shall cooperate with other offices that are particularly concerned with the provision of information to the University community on policies and procedures."

The largest category of cases over the years was that termed "Information" cases in which the Ombudsperson took no active investigative role, but rather provided information and advice to individuals about how to deal with their complaints. Given the revised Terms of Reference and the Office's reduced service levels, the staff identified alternative ways of addressing some ofthese more common concerns and questions: increased referrals to other University resources whenever appropriate (including, for example, to divisional registrarial advisors, to undergraduate and graduate co-ordinators, and to the University's Equity Offices), a telephone information system, a web site, and a series of information pamphlets.

5. Information Pamphlets

Last year, a series of pamphlets on frequently occurring concerns and issues was developed under the auspices of the Office of Student Affairs and the Governing Council. Five thousand information brochures were made available to students beginning late last Fall through a variety of sources including Registrars' Offices, the Office of Student Affairs, Downtown Legal Services and this Office. I anticipate that this information series will be reprinted and available for distribution again this Fall. The pamphlets cover the following topics: fees and fee refunds cheating and plagiarism appealing grades thought to be unfair petitioning/appealing on compassionate grounds or on grounds of administrative error non-academic discipline and the Code of Student Conduct the University's decision-making processes and structure

6. Website

In addition to the direct referrals of individuals we receive from students, staff and faculty, and the information about the Office included in divisional calendars and other campus publications, our web site appears to be our most valuable resource for informing the University community about the Office. It represents a significant improvement over the Office's voice-mail information program in terms of content, format and certain accessibility issues which are outlined in the next section of this Annual Report. Our Office website includes the Terms of Reference for the Office of the University Ombudsperson, the most recent Annual Report and Administrative Response, and more detailed information about our mandate and about how we can help. It also has referral information related to the most common areas of inquiry, including selected information from the pamphlet series previously described in section 4 above. We introduced our web site in May of 1999 and installed a counter system in September, 1999. During the last 9 months we have had 1090 visits to our website.

7. Telephone Information Program

In the summer of 1997, as part of the transition to reduced service levels, the Ombudsperson's staff designed a telephone information system for the Office. This was intended to inform callers with more general inquiries about the most appropriate University resource for their assistance. It was designed to inform University members about what steps they would need to take initially to try and resolve their own complaints prior to the Ombudsperson's involvement.

The Acting Ombudsperson, Irene Birrell, stated the following about this voice-mail program in her 1997/98 Annual Report: "The Office is open to any member of the University community. This means we see a wide range of problems. Adding to the complexity is the University's size and diversity. In the area of petitions and appeals, for example, every division does things a bit differently, making a multi-layered [voice-message] system necessary. In addition, in order to be truly useful, a number of the mailboxes on the system contain a lot of detailed information. The complexity of the system has proven to be a problem. Two usage studies done in November and March showed that very few callers were actually staying with the system long enough to reach an information mailbox... If the system is to be retained, it will clearly need to be redesigned to make it more effective."

I followed up on this advice last year. We decided to streamline the voice-mail information program with shorter, more concise messages to provide what we hoped would be a more responsive resource for our callers. We incorporated our web site address into the introduction, and reduced the overall number of information mailboxes. We arranged for usage studies of the mailbox system by University Telecommunications staff in September and April which provided even less satisfactory results than the 1997/98 usage studies. Very few callers (about 15% last year, compared with 20%, on average, in the previous usage studies) stayed with the system beyond the introduction to reach the information mailboxes. An additional thirty-five per cent of the callers "zeroed out" during the voice-message introduction which provides them with access to the Office secretary's line. In the event that we are already on the telephone, busy with complainants, or not in the Office, these individuals would receive a further voice-mail message requesting that they leave their name and telephone number. About fifty percent of callers, after accessing the telephone information program at their first point of contact with the Office, hang-up during the general introduction. We will give further consideration to the overall effectiveness of this program as an information and referral resource during the upcoming organizational review.

8. Professional Development

During the past year, I attended an Alternative Dispute Resolution seminar in Toronto sponsored by the Canadian Bar Association, and the joint conference of the Canadian and United States Ombudsman Associations held in Victoria. The Annual General Meeting of the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudspersons (ACCUO) was also scheduled during the Ombudsman Associations' conference. In November, I attended the Canadian Conference on Student Judicial Affairs held in Toronto. The schedules for these various events presented a number of opportunities to discuss important and useful information related to this Office's central mandate of individual complaint resolution. This included seminars related to the conduct of investigations, alternative dispute resolution and mediation.

The requirements of confidentiality, impartiality and independence for Ombudspersons impose a certain degree of 'isolation', given the unique nature of the position within its operating environment. Consequently, participation in professional development opportunities such as those I have mentioned is particularly important. They provide a valuable context within which to explore the experiences, in general, of other academic communities and, more directly, of other Ombudspersons, for all of the mutually beneficial professional development and support which that entails.

II. Cases and Issues

Following is a summary of issues and cases including comments related to this year's caseload statistics, and follow-up to previous years' Annual Reports. While some cases have related to serious but probably isolated problems that have arisen, others have revealed larger policy and procedure implications. I have highlighted these and made recommendations to address the various concerns.

1. Constituency Groups

The distribution of the caseload across the University's constituency groups is shown in Appendix "B", Table 1. We note the following: a 15% increase over last year in the number of undergraduate students who brought their complaints to the Ombudsperson. Undergraduate students represent more than half of our caseload. a continued increase (34% increase this past year) in the number of graduate students who brought their concerns to the Office of the Ombudsperson. Graduate students' issues are often longer-term and more complex in nature, involving relatively more time and attention on our part. the number of administrative staff members who have approached the Ombudsperson for assistance has remained consistent over the past 4 years (between 6% to 7% of the caseload). a 38% decrease in the number of academic staff members who contacted this Office. Over the last five years, this constituency has represented less than 5% of the caseload.

2. Action Taken

The distribution of the caseload by action taken is outlined in Appendix "B", Table 2. As mentioned in previous annual reports, an overview of the caseload statistics does not provide any meaningful indication of the relative complexity of the cases, nor of the time and effort involved in helping to resolve them. We have found that the resolution of some complaints has come about quickly and easily, while some "Information" cases have taken a larger amount of time to reach closure when the issues involved are complicated. Highlights include: a decrease in the percentage of inquiries categorized as "Information". Over the past four years, the percentage of caseload represented by this category has decreased from 83% to 57% this past year. This is most likely due to the availability of new information and referral resources such as our website and the pamphlet series, as well as increasing awareness across the campuses that the Office no longer serves as a "general information centre for members of the University", in accordance with the revised Terms of Reference (1998). Undergraduate students represented over one-third of the inquiries and complaints categorized as "Information". increases in the number of "Expedited" and "Resolved" outcomes. The combination of these two categories over the past four years has ranged from 9% to this past year's 21% of the caseload. Over fifty percent of the "Expedited" and "Resolved" cases related to undergraduate students, and over 25% to graduate students. The increases in these categories could be due, in large part, to the Office's resources being redirected from the more general information and referral inquiries which were previously included in the mandate of the Ombudsperson. This also underscores the importance of increasing the Office's campus network and 'outreach' to continue building familiarity with changing processes and procedures across the three campuses. In addition to communicating about the information and complaint resolution resources available elsewhere, it is critical to assist University community members to become more familiar with the role and function of the Ombudsperson. situations covered by the "No Action Required" designation include individuals who make appointments, then cancel or do not show up. We try to reach those who fail to make their appointments. Occasionally, we are able to provide advice and assistance by telephone. We are sometimes informed that they have managed to resolve their concerns. In other cases, individuals are pursuing their complaints through other channels but wish to keep the Office informed of their issues and the progress they are making in resolving them. In still other situations, complainants are angry or upset and wish to make a 'complaint of record', requesting no assistance or advice. "No Jurisdiction" cases include University community members' complaints about situations which fall outside the jurisdiction of the Governing Council (e.g. students with landlord/tenant disputes), and non-University members' complaints and inquiries including, for example, applicants for admission, parents of students, and alumni. We generally try to provide information or referrals to assist these individuals with the resolution of their concerns.

3. Follow-up to Previous Years' Annual Reports

The following three sections provide comments and follow-up to issues that have been raised in previous annual reports.

a) Postdoctoral Fellows

In response to an inquiry received this year, and in follow-up to an issue covered in the 1990 to 1995 Annual Reports, I raised with the School of Graduate Studies the question of Postdoctoral Fellows' current status within the University system. There is a lack of a clear definition of their rights and responsibilities, and an established grievance procedure within University policy and procedures. Several steps were taken by the Administration between 1992 and 1995 to help address this situation, including improved access for Postdoctoral Fellows to student services, their inclusion in the Codes of Behaviour on Academic Matters and Student Conduct and identification of the SGS Associate Deans as their first level of grievance or complaint within SGS. However, a more formalized grievance process has yet to be developed relating to PDFs' contractual relationships and conditions of employment.

This year, the Dean of SGS struck a thirteen member Task Force on Postdoctoral Fellows, chaired by SGS Associate Dean Umberto de Boni. The Task Force was "to examine the circumstances of and collect data on postdoctoral fellows and to make recommendations on their relationship with their supervisors and the University". I understand that this Task Force's final report to the Dean is nearing completion, and I look forward to the Dean and the Administration's timely consideration of the Task Force's final recommendations. Recommendation 1: That the Administration, as the result of the review process of the SGS Dean's Task Force on Postdoctoral Fellows, consider the establishment of a protective and effective appeal process applied to PDFs' contractual relationships, including grievance and termination procedures, in keeping with the principles applied to graduate students across campus.

b) Graduate Students' Supervision

For many graduate students, the supervisor's role and the nature of their collaborative research relationship is critical to the students' progress-to-degree. In last year's Annual Report, I raised the issue of the role of graduate students' course and supervision evaluations as one measure of faculty teaching effectiveness in promotions and PTR decision-making.

The Administrative Response indicated that "the promotion and assessment of teaching effectiveness is an ongoing concern for the Provost's Office." The Provost's Office drew Divisions' attention to the importance of the "Guidelines for the Assessment of Teaching Effectiveness in Promotion and Tenure Decisions" in making PTR awards, and stated that it expected Divisions "to review their guidelines and to bring forward any changes for consideration." The SGS has also acknowledged the seriousness of this issue but indicated that its capacity to deal with it is limited due to the highly decentralized nature of the University. Last Fall, the Dean of SGS reported on the matter of supervision conduct and the monitoring of graduate students' academic progress to Principals, Deans, Academic Directors and Chairs (PDAD&C). SGS distributed the guidelines for best practice (Sections 29-2 to 29-7 of the SGS Yellow Book) to graduate chairs and directors of SGS centres and institutes, requesting that they be called to the attention of graduate students and faculty. SGS also circulated the "Checklists of Good Supervisory Practice" and "Guidelines for Departmental Monitoring of the Progress of the Ph.D. Students" to all graduate co-ordinators, drawing their attention to good practice in these areas. Recommendation 2: That Divisions be encouraged to review their divisional teaching assessment guidelines in light of the Provostial recommendation outlined in last year's Administrative Response. I understand that divisional practice and procedure may vary with respect to the implementation of the University's "Guidelines for the Assessment of Teaching Effectiveness in Promotion and Tenure Decisions", and with respect to the role of students' evaluations of faculty as one measure of teaching effectiveness. I am therefore highlighting this issue once again for the attention of Divisions, and urging their follow-up on the Provostial recommendation from last year's Administrative Response that Divisions review their guidelines and "bring forward any changes for consideration."

It was the intention of SGS during this past year to administer, through the Office of Graduate Education Research, a survey (Higher Education Data Sharing group survey) related to graduate students' opinions about their experiences with their supervisors. My understanding was that this survey would be administered to all doctoral-stream students. Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, SGS has been unable to launch this research project. Recommendation 3: That the SGS consider rescheduling the implementation of its graduate student survey for the current academic year. I anticipate that the information provided would prove very helpful to the University in its ongoing assessment of the quality of the graduate educational experience, and would provide useful perspectives on such topics as graduate student financial support, time-to-completion of degrees and teaching effectiveness.

c) Timeliness: Petitions, Appeals and Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters

The Administrative Response to last year's Annual Report indicated that the Provost's Office would "provide a general guideline for divisions to follow" in their implementation of the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters. It also stated that the Provost's Office would "look at the question of the length of time taken for appeals and petitions, and for the support that divisions offer to students." Recommendation 4 : That the Provost's Office consider establishing general guidelines for divisions to follow regarding timeliness and the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters and petitions and appeals. Acknowledging the difficulty of establishing such general timeframes and guidelines when cases vary considerably in their complexity, I look forward to the Provost's Office proposed follow-up on this, as outlined in last year's Administrative Response, in helping to ensure fair and timely process, including its consideration of the divisional resources and administrative support available.

4. Issues Affecting Undergraduate Students

Issues which undergraduate students have raised this year, individually and occasionally in groups, reflect the diversity, complexity and decentralized nature of the University across its three campuses. Students' concerns, for example, have related to: timeliness within Divisions concerning the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters and the petitions and appeals processes; harassment and discrimination allegations; implications of late fees payments; problems with deferred exam scheduling; suspension and probationary status disputes; complaints about instructors' conduct and course content, and the lack of residence space this year and the alternative accommodation provided. Two general areas merit particular attention.

a) Students in Residence

Over the last two years, this Office has been approached by a few undergraduate students about disputes involving disruptive residence behaviour. As a result, I spoke with some Deans of Students regarding the usefulness of 'letters of agreement' in such situations. These are specialized agreements negotiated with individual students related to their behavioural conduct in residence in addition to the residence contracts they have signed. Recommendation 5: That the use of special 'letters of agreement' pertaining to residence behaviour issues be tabled for discussion at campus-based professional development meetings. Since use of these specialized, negotiated agreements varies widely across the campuses, I raised with the Director of Student Affairs some questions I had as the result of my inquiries. These questions relate to: the development of these agreements with appropriate legal advice, the effective administration of these agreements, and their usefulness in achieving consistently good outcomes. We agreed that the topic of these letters of agreement would be tabled at Residence Don Training Workshops and at an upcoming meeting of the Network for Effective Student Service through Information Exchange (NESSIE, formerly the Association of Counsellors). As part of this, I would recommend to the Director of Student Affairs that since all Deans of Students and frequently Principals are central to the negotiation of such contractual relationships, their participation be encouraged at such professional development opportunities to facilitate detailed discussion of these agreements, including 'best practice' and legal implications.

b) Academic Counselling and Information Resources

Over the past two years, this Office has received several inquiries related to the denial of petitions for late withdrawal without academic penalty. I noted this year, as well, certain Academic Appeals Committee decisions in late withdrawal cases where 'extraordinary circumstances beyond the student's control' resulted in successful appeals at that level, overturning previous petition denials. In a different situation, the Academic Appeals Committee commented, in its decision, that "appeals of this nature might be avoided if appellants were presented with an information package that encourages them to prepare all relevant evidence, including medical evidence...and that makes them aware that they can have assistance, including legal counsel." It is because this Office received so many inquiries in the past related to petitions that the pamphlet entitled, "Exemptions, Extensions, Rewrites and Relief", was incorporated in the information brochure series introduced late last Fall, and designed to supplement academic counsellors' advice. This particular brochure outlines the general petition process and includes information about late withdrawal, requisite medical documentation, and students' entitlement to attend and to be represented by legal counsel at the level of Faculty appeal committees. Recommendation 6 (a): That front-line counselling staff from all divisions and campuses draw their students' attention to the information pamphlet series. Recommendation 6 (b): That the information pamphlet series' content be evaluated and revised. The Director of Student Affairs has agreed that an evaluation of the pamphlet series would be timely. The Office of Student Affairs is undertaking this survey before any pamphlets are reprinted. We have also agreed that in order to improve upon its distribution and availability to students, the content of the revised series will be incorporated into the Office of Student Affairs' website this Fall.

As part of this, I would recommend to the Director of Student Affairs that the petitions pamphlet be revised to highlight the information referred to by the Academic Appeals Committee.

5. Issues Affecting Graduate Students

A number of individual complaints we received this year related to 'time-to-completion' issues for graduate students, including concerns about failed oral/comprehensive exams, supervisors' availability, the timeliness of supervisors and committee members' feedback on draft submissions, and supervisors' laboratory and/or research assignments for students conflicting with students' academic progress on their own research and/or thesis requirements. Some cases involved grade appeals and inquiries related to the Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters, while others involved issues of intellectual property and co-authorship. This Office's interaction covered the spectrum from referral to the University's "Intellectual Property and Research Policies Guidelines", to facilitating discussions with individual supervisors, Graduate Co-ordinators and/or Departmental Chairs, to involvement with SGS' Associate Deans in order to help achieve resolution.

a) The Role of Graduate Co-ordinators

Graduate Co-ordinators play a key role in students' academic advice and support network, and in the resolution of their concerns at the departmental level. This underscores the importance of the training session provided by SGS in the Fall. Recommendation 7 (a): That all graduate co-ordinators be encouraged to attend the SGS Fall training session scheduled for new graduate co-ordinators, with programming designed to facilitate the interaction of new and experienced graduate co-ordinators. As part of this, I recommend that SGS consider establishing 'best practice' panels/seminars involving experienced graduate co-ordinators and SGS Associate Deans. Recommendation 7 (b): That graduate co-ordinators and graduate departmental Chairs consult with the SGS Associate Deans of their Divisions in order to achieve fair and timely resolution of the more complex issues brought to them by graduate students.

b) Fee Rebates

We have received a few complaints from graduate students involved, for a variety of reasons, in the process of trying to obtain fee rebates. Referrals of these students between SGS staff, the students' graduate department staff and, occasionally, other University financial services' staff resulted in confusion and frustration, and prompted these students' contact with my Office. The central issue revolved around the question of who has the lead role and responsibility for assisting these students in the resolution of their concerns. While the office has had only a small number of complaints, the seriousness of the issue from the perspective of these students is significant. Recommendation 8: That the current fees rebate/appeal process and procedures for graduate students be more clearly outlined and communicated for the benefit of graduate department staff and students.

6. Individuals with Disabilities

I received several complaints this year related to arrangements for students with special needs. Difficulties arose in a few situations when there was disagreement between the students, their instructors and/or special services staff about appropriate arrangements for academic evaluation and, often, confusion about responsibility for making arrangements. This Office has worked closely with Special Services' professional staff, and continues to rely on the expertise of these staff members at St. George campus' DisAbility Services, AccessAbility Services at University of Toronto at Scarborough and University of Toronto at Mississauga's AccessAbility Resource Centre to help in the resolution of these students' concerns.

In order to use available services to their optimum, it is important for students to consult on a timely basis with their academic advisors and instructors, who are responsible for the students' academic evaluations, and with Special Services' staff in order to arrive at suitable accommodation for evaluation. This collaborative framework involving students, special services staff, divisional academic counsellors and teaching staff relies on timely communication and response by all participants in order to meet the needs of students who require special arrangements for academic evaluation. When academic accommodation involves writing tests or examinations at locations other than the usual classroom areas, it is important that the students inform special services' staff of their needs in sufficient time for the staff to make suitable space and invigilator arrangements. It is also important for teaching and departmental staff to provide timely responses to students' requests for accommodation, and to relay the students' test and examination materials to special services' staff well in advance of the test or examination schedule set up for the students. In turn, it is important that sufficient space to meet the overall need presented by students in these circumstances be available for the special services staff who are responsible for setting up special test and examination sites. Recommendation 9: That communication with respect to disability services be enhanced to ensure that students with disabilities requiring special arrangements for academic evaluation understand their responsibility to consult on a timely basis with academic and administrative staff; That academic and divisional staff be encouraged to provide timely responses to students' requests for academic accommodation for evaluation, and to transmit testing materials on a timely basis to special services staff, and That special services' ability to provide alternate space for individuals to write these tests and exams is determined by the overall need for such accommodation, and not by the availability of sufficient space because of short notice.

7. Issues Affecting Staff Members: Teaching and Administrative

Staff members have contacted the Office during the past two years to discuss concerns related to, for example, content of personnel records, probationary status, program termination, fear of job loss and negative or infrequent performance reviews, as well as other areas of disagreement within their 'chain-of command' supervisory network. Faculty members have also made inquiries related to the academic appointment and search process and to specific policies/procedures including: "Conflict of Interest", "Sexual Harassment", "Code of Behaviour on Academic Matters" and "Code of Student Conduct." Often, teaching and administrative staff members are interested in the confidential and impartial counsel of this Office to assist them in exploring approaches to deal with some of these concerns.

Students complain to my Office about what they describe as poor service, poor attitude or rude treatment when they are seeking academic advice from staff, or trying to resolve problems. In following-up on students' inquiries, I receive just as often, it seems, staff members' complaints about students' comments and behaviour described as bullying, abusive, aggressive or insulting. I frequently hear comments from staff as well related to workload, and the impact of this on staff members' ability to assist students in the resolution of their concerns. Recommendation 10: That the Administration continue to increase its monitoring of, and attention to, issues such as staff complement, workload, enhanced service delivery and the provision of a safe and positive environment. The effects of the budget cuts of the past several years are magnified now with the effects of rising enrollment, systems technology change, capital expansion and increased research activity.

I note that in July, at the request of the equity officers, the Vice-President and Provost and the Vice-President, Administration and Human Resources, distributed to PDAD&C a memorandum regarding harassment in the work place which stated: "It is the responsibility of all Principals, Deans, Academic Directors and Chairs and Senior Managers to ensure that courtesy prevails in the workplace at all times. Our staff deserve no less. Behaviour that is experienced as rude, ill-tempered or bad-mannered may require the intervention of the manager, supervisor or chair or dean." The memorandum referred PDAD&C to the three policies in place related to harassment: the "Statement on Prohibited Discrimination and Discriminatory Harassment", the "Code of Student Conduct" and the "Policy and Procedures: Sexual Harassment." This memorandum also outlined the program of courses and resources available to assist academic and administrative managers in dealing with disruptive behaviour, workplace conflicts, and complaints of discrimination or unfair treatment and "to understand and deal with the kinds of behaviour that may be described as harassing." Recommendation 11: That the memorandum about harassment distributed to PDAD&C in July receive broad distribution by PDAD&C throughout their divisions; and That University community members take steps to ensure their supervisors are aware of any encounters with individuals whose behaviour can be described as disruptive or harassing.

A few administrative staff members who have approached this Office for assistance have expressed uncertainty as to the role of the Human Resources Generalist assigned to their Division/Department in the resolution of their concerns. Non-unionized administrative staff, in particular, have inquired about the Department of Human Resources' advisory/advocacy functions for both supervisors and staff and the role of Human Resources staff within 'chain of command' and more formal grievance procedures. While this represents only a small number of complaints to this Office, the seriousness of the issues from the perspective of the complainants flag this as a more general concern requiring attention from the Administration.

Recommendation 12: That the University clarify the availability of conflict resolution/mediation support and a more formal grievance process for its non-unionized administrative staff members.

III. Concluding Remarks and Acknowledgements

This Report has highlighted some areas of University policy and procedure where improvement is needed, and others where improvement is occurring. I look forward to hearing from the University community with comments or concerns about any of the information and recommendations I have included in this year's Annual Report.

The major mandate of the Ombudsperson is to respond to all individuals who approach us for assistance and, beyond that, to identify and pursue the full breadth and complexity of those cases in signaling the potential of larger issues for attention. To be successful, it is essential to communicate the role and function of the Ombudsperson. In the coming year, I look forward to following-up on more opportunities to systematically work with particular individuals on all three campuses (e.g. Registrarial and Academic Counselling staff and Equity Officers), with a greater focus on Mississauga and Scarborough campuses, to better integrate my knowledge of the information and complaint resolution resources available elsewhere.

I remain motivated by the responsibility entrusted to this office by those who approach us for help, by their trust in us and by their gratitude for positive outcomes. I am pleased with the responsiveness of those I approach with my inquiries in thoroughly explaining their perspective, and in offering candid opinion and critique about issues within our confidential framework. Most important though is their willingness to maintain an open mind while exploring with me possible alternative outcomes for many cases, and for sharing a commitment to fairness. I understand the disappointment on the part of those complainants who disagree with our Office's assessment of their situations or who may have misunderstood the non-advocacy nature of the Office of the University Ombudsperson. We look forward to continuing our efforts to address problems through early resolution, thorough investigations and timely recommendations.

I would like to express my appreciation to all of the University members whom I have approached for assistance in resolving complaints and problems. The good will, information and advice that so many individuals continue to provide is vital to the accomplishment of my mandate as University Ombudsperson. I would like to thank, in particular, my co-worker, Linda Natale, and Louis Charpentier, Secretary of Governing Council, for their assistance and counsel.

Mary Ward
University of Toronto Ombudsperson

August 24, 2000


Read the Administrative Response to this report.

Look at the report's Tables and Statistics