Ombudsperson leaves with recommendations

Ombudsperson leaves with recommendations McGill University

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McGill Reporter
November 27, 2003 - Volume 36 Number 06
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 36: 2003-2004 > November 27, 2003 > Ombudsperson leaves with recommendations

Ombudsperson leaves with recommendations

Carol Cumming Speirs presented a report to Senate on November 5, concerning her five-year term as Ombudsperson for Students that ended this August. The ombudsperson office serves students by intervening at the beginning of a complaint process to try to resolve problems before a formal appeal takes places. The ombudsperson is a half-time position, which Cumming Speirs would like to see as full time.

The past five years have seen many changes. The office has moved to the Brown Building, and no longer shares an administrative coordinator with other units, the budget has increased from $1,700 to $11,000, a website has gone up and better data is being collected.

It already seems as though the number of student contacts is up now that the office is based in the Brown Building.

The types of issues Cumming Speirs saw students come in with were mostly academic complaints, with interpersonal conflicts second, particularly between graduate students and their supervisors. Even though Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies has revised policies, the supervisor/student relationship is inherently fraught with tension. On the plus side, complaints about admissions went down over time. McGill's new residence played a role by providing enough space to accomodate everyone. Notably, there wasn't a single case of plagiarism last year that came to her office, no doubt due to the efforts of McGill's subcommittee on academic integrity (see www.mcgill.ca/integrity).

Cumming Speirs says work still needs to be done to clarify the learning contract. Errant lecturers, and even senior professors, are still not providing information to students in a timely manner, on issues such as the add/drop period, course outline, readings, method of assessment and office hours. "It's one of the easiest things to amend, and it's still needed," Cumming Speirs said.

This relates to her recommendation that staff be helpful and respectful toward students. Some units are better than others, but there are still far too many staff who must be encouraged to respond to students' emails and phone calls promptly, let them know if they'll be out of town, acknowledge transgressions toward students and apologize if required.

She also recommends that the Provost encourage coordination between the ombudsperson office and the proposed new equity office.

Occasionally in the past, students have been paid research stipends by professors' private companies, a practice that could confuse academic roles with entrepreneurial ones. Cumming Speirs says the offices of the Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral studies and Vice-Principal of Research should keep finessing policies regarding research partnerships between supervisors and students, so that utter transparency can be achieved.

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