Last year, the number of undergraduate student concerns reported to the ombudsperson’s office was the highest within the past five years.
The office experienced a gradual increase in the overall number of undergraduate student concerns from 1.2 per cent of the student population coming forward in 2010–11 to 1.6 per cent in 2014–15. A total of 591 students visited the office last year, with 88 per cent of those being undergraduates.
The ombudsperson’s office provides guidance through both academic and non-academic situations that might prove troublesome to a student, a staff member or a faculty member in a confidential, impartial and independent manner.
“We don’t advocate for students or the University, we just advocate for what’s fair,” said Jennifer Meister, the ombudsperson at Western.
Reoccurring issues brought forward by undergraduate students included 181 concerns about general academics, 171 about administrative procedures and 65 relating to scholastic appeals.
Major non-academic concerns from both undergraduate and graduate students included 22 instances relating to conduct, 13 about interpersonal concerns that include referrals to Equity and Human Rights Services and 12 about housing, both on- and off-campus.
The highest percentage of undergraduate students in a faculty visiting the ombudsperson's office comes from medical sciences with approximately 2.8 per cent of students. It is followed by the Faculty of Information and Media Studies with 2.4 per cent. At 0.4 per cent each, the Faculty of Law and King's University College saw the lowest percentage of students visiting.
Although the increase might seem to reflect an inflation in student problems, it’s more likely the result of the office’s student awareness initiatives.
“We’re the type of office that students don’t tend to know about until they need us,” said Meister, who has a background in marketing communications. “It really was time for me to take a step back and look at the communications that our office had and what students understood about our office.”
Meister stated the office’s website underwent an intensive makeover and its mission statement was renewed to increase clarity and specificity.
“I’ve worked very hard at establishing relationships with [campus] academic leaders so that academic leaders are referring students to our office when there is a problem,” said Meister.
Meister believes the trend is positive because it helps offset the “big power imbalance” present in universities between students and faculty members.
Additionally, the ombudsperson’s office is important because it establishes a “non-threatening, non-judgmental” middle ground at Western that any member of the community can use for assistance with problems such as grade appeals or inappropriate conduct.
“I think [the increase in concerns] certainly doesn’t say that there are that many more problems at the University,” Meister said. “I believe what it says is that people know about our office.”
Ombudsperson's office located at: Western Student Services Building third floor, Room 3135
Office hours: Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.
Book an appointment here.