Ombuds Referendum: What you need to know

Do you support the creation of a $1.25 per credit fee Ombuds Levy starting May 2019, as per the Memorandum of Understanding?

As of February 4, election campaigning for both BUSU Executive and Board of Director positions and the CFBU and Ombuds Referendums has begun. The Ombuds referendum, in particular, relates to a service that many Brock students might not know much about.

Ombuds advocates for fairness and fair processes. The service offers a confidential space where students can get information and support with their complaints or concerns about their academic experience, courses or interactions in general as long as it is related to the university. The goal of the service is to help resolve conflict even at the lowest level with full discretion.

“Ombuds is not a ‘point of notice’ service, which means [the office] is not mandated to report disclosures, concerns or conflicts that are shared in the space, making it a truly impartial service for students. The only exceptions to this rule, of course, are disclosures of suicide and harm of others,” said Carole Moss, Brock’s current Ombudsperson who has served in the capacity for 12 years.

The purpose of the Ombuds office is to ensure policies, processes and services on campus are operating equitably and that students experience fair outcomes when in conflict with professors, teaching assistants, staff members and other students. Ombuds, however, do not: make decisions for students or staff, offer legal advice, function as counsellors, advocate for any individual or organization and facilitate discussions of issues unrelated to the university.

Ombuds has operated as part of BUSU for over 40 years and has always been staffed by a single person who manages all incoming complaints and conflicts. In 2007 there were about 162 conflict cases and presently there are 700 cases. Despite the increases in enrollment and subsequential caseload, there remains one Ombudsperson. At most other universities, the ratio of cases to ombudspersons is about 300:1 or less, whereas at Brock the ratio is 700:1.

The Ombuds Referendum is asking students to pay $1.25 per credit to fund a second professional full-time employee to fix the ratio of too many cases to too few Ombuds. If the caseload problem is not addressed, it will result in service cuts for students seeking support.

“With such a high caseload, the quality of service is slipping: longer wait times to see the Ombudsperson, less prep and debrief time and the implementation of the triage model which no longer serves the first person through the door but rather, the most serious case — a frustrating situation for everyone,” said Moss.

If passed, the levy is forecasted to produce about $97,000 to be used almost exclusively for salary, benefits, professional memberships, training and development. The remainder of the funds will be used to aid in covering the operational costs associated with running the service.

According to Moss, voting “yes” in the Ombuds Referendum ensures that there is a service that upholds the voice and rights of each student at the university.

“Most students will never need the support of an Ombudsperson but when they do, it’s critical to have an equitably funded and sustainable service to provide quality care if students are charged with academic misconduct, appealing a grade, suspended from school, lacking accommodations or struggling with a professor.” Moss states that having a fully supported Ombuds Service means more students will be guided through their darkest times by someone who does not judge them and works for them.

“Ombuds matters because without the service, there is no neutral support provider on campus to coach, guide and advocate for fairness on behalf of students,” said Moss “Many of the cases I receive as the Ombudsperson involve severe instances of student mistreatment which often intersect with combinations of mental health, discrimination, harassment and bias. When students don’t know their rights and are feeling overwhelmed and powerless, it’s critical they have a champion for fairness.”

While there is no “no” side to the referendum, the main concern echoed by members of the Brock community is why exactly they need to pay an additional fee for such an important service while tuition continues to be high and increase annually.

“Asking students to fund a sustainable Ombuds Service was not something BUSU took lightly,” said Moss. “It became clear that the only way to fix the ratio was with a student levy. We wanted to ask students to help us fix the problem before having to reduce the scope of services provided. Our hope was that the students would consider the service too important to vote down.”

Voting begins on Feb. 12 and will be open until 9:00 p.m. on Feb. 14. Students can cast their vote via their Brock email accounts. More information about the Ombuds Referendum along with the memorandum of understanding can be found online at brockombuds.com.

 

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