Office of the Ombudsperson

OFFICE OF THE

University Ombudsman

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TERMS OF REFERENCE

Queen’s University is committed to the just, fair and equitable treatment of each and every member of the University community. In keeping with this commitment, the University has created the Office of the University Ombudsman at Queen’s University.

  1. PRINCIPLES

The Office is founded on a number of general principles including independence, impartiality, confidentiality, informality, the ability to investigate and accessibility. These principles are reflected in the structure and operation of the Office.

  1. MANDATE

The mandate of the Office of the University Ombudsman [1] hereinafter referred to as “the Office”) is as follows:

  • provides an independent, impartial and confidential office through which members of the University community may pursue the just, fair and equitable resolution of university-related concerns within the jurisdiction of the Office as set out in these terms of reference
  • receives, assesses, and facilitates the informal resolution of concerns and complaints in support of University policies and in accordance with best practices in organizational conflict management
  • provides confidential and independent advice and support [2] to members of the University community who may have questions about dispute resolution processes or who may be affected in the course of the resolution of complaints
  • Acts as a liaison between individuals and/or groups at all levels serving as a communicator or informal conciliator as appropriate in matters ranging from interpersonal conflict between two parties to internal group facilitation to formal settlement discussions
  • To mediate the resolution of a complaint according to University policy or on consent of the parties
  • To make recommendations, where appropriate, for changes to University policies and procedures
  • To promote discussion on institution-wide concerns concerning issues of accountability, transparency and fairness
  • Safe Disclosure Officer as established in the University’s Policy and Procedure for Safe Reporting and Investigation

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  1. ACCOUNTABILITY STRUCTURE AND THE  INDEPENDENCE OF THE OFFICE

3.1  The Ombudsman has an accountability relationship with the Board of Trustees, through the Audit & Risk Committee of the Board, the Senate and has unrestricted access to all University personnel. The Office of the University Ombudsman is independent of the administrative structures of the University. The Office reports to the Secretary of the University for the purposes of its administration of employment-related policies, procedures, and budgeting.

3.2  Although authorized to function in the widest possible context and with a minimum of constraints, the Ombudsman shall not be a voting member of any committee, hiring board or council of the university, but may be a non-voting member or a consultant on policy and procedure development, save for such committees, boards or councils constituted by the Office;

3.3  Any member of the university community has the right to seek the assistance of the Office, within its jurisdiction as set out in these terms of reference, without reprisal or threat of reprisal from any other university member or office. Any individual or body found to make such reprisals or threats will be subject to disciplinary action.

Members of the university community include full-time, part-time, and exchange students including those attending Queen’s Bader International Study Centre; full-time, part-time, casual, contract and temporary staff; grant-paid employees as well as those who work to gain experience or for benefits, such as volunteers, co-op students, interns and apprentices; librarians, archivists and faculty members; visiting fellows, research and post-doctoral fellows; and members of the Board of Trustees and its committees.

3.4  All Office activities shall remain free of influence by any element of University management, including matters of case/investigation selection, scope, procedures, frequency, timing, or report content.

3.5  Persons working within the Office of the Ombudsman shall have no direct operational responsibility or authority over any of the activities they review.

3.6  The Ombudsman may, where necessary in his or her view, raise issues of concern regarding the independence of the Office directly with the Chair of the Audit and Risk Committee of the Board of Trustees or the Senate, as applicable.

3.7    Persons who, acting in good faith, have filed a complaint or sought the assistance of the Office of the Ombudsman or participated in an investigation/inquiry or made an effort to resolve a problem must be able to do so without fear of reprisal.

Accordingly, no supervisor or other person acting on behalf of the University shall:

  1. dismiss or threaten to dismiss an employee;
  2. discipline or suspend, or threaten to discipline or suspend a student or an employee;
  3. impose any penalty upon a student or employee; and/or
  4. intimidate or coerce a student or employee

because that person has filed a complaint in good faith with, or participated in an investigation or inquiry by, the Office of the Ombudsman.

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  1. CONFIDENTIALITY

4.1  The Ombudsman [3] shall meet with persons or groups on a confidential basis and shall not intervene in a matter without the express written (including e-mail) consent of at least one party to a dispute.

4.2  Notwithstanding the foregoing, the Ombudsman is not required to maintain confidentiality in cases involving the commission of a serious crime or where there is a reasonable possibility of risk of physical harm to or abuse of any person.

4.3  The Ombudsman shall ensure the confidentiality of all records maintained in the Office and shall develop a suitable record retention policy.

4.4  The Ombudsman shall not be required to give evidence before a University tribunal about anything that he/she may have learned in the exercise of his/her duty. The University will endeavour to protect the Ombudsman from subpoena.

  1. JURISDICTION

5.1  The Office may receive any University-related inquiry or concern from any member of the University community.  For the purposes of these Terms of Reference, a University-related action does not relate to inquiries or concerns with respect to matters wholly internal to the Alma Mater Society (“AMS”), the Society of Graduate and Professional Students (“SGPS“) or AMS Inc. but would include actions taken or decisions made under the delegated authority of the Senate, subject to Section 5.7 below.

5.2  Any decision about student discipline, the exercise of emergency powers, or academic standing communicated to a student shall refer to the Office of the University Ombudsman as a resource for information and advice [4].

5.3  At the Ombudsman's discretion, concerns may also be received from former students in respect of matters arising out of their former student status.

5.4  All concerns must be presented by persons directly affected by the matter. The Office of the Ombudsman shall not deal with concerns or complaints presented by third parties.

5.5  The Ombudsman shall not formally intervene in any matter covered by a collective agreement, employment policy or employment legislation unless all parties, including the relevant bargaining unit or staff association and the Department of Human Resources or the Office of Faculty Relations, as applicable, consent, in writing, to the Ombudsman's involvement, or unless specifically contemplated in the policy. The Ombudsman is not precluded from advising parties to a matter regarding his/her rights and responsibilities, nor from assisting parties to understand the complaint, and supporting parties through this process.

5.6  The Ombudsman shall not intervene if a matter is currently pending in a legal forum.

5.7  The Ombudsman shall not formally intervene in any matter before an AMS or SGPS Judicial Committee, a Residence discipline tribunal, or the University Student Appeal Board unless all parties and the Judicial Committee, the Residence discipline tribunal, or the University Student Appeal Board, as applicable, consent, in writing, to the Ombudsman's informal involvement, or unless specifically contemplated in a policy. The Ombudsman is not precluded from advising a respondent(s) to a complaint or a party to an appeal regarding his/her rights and responsibilities, nor from assisting  that person to understand the complaint, and supporting him/her/them through this process.

5.8 The Ombudsman may refuse to intervene or may withdraw from a case where:

  1. the concerns are deemed to be unjustified;
  2. the request for intervention is not made in good faith or is otherwise considered by the Ombudsman to be frivolous, malicious or vexatious in nature, an abuse of process or designed to subvert another legitimate process;
  3. the Ombudsman deems that his/her intervention is not necessary having regard to the circumstances and/or;
  4. the person or group has recourse to another individual, group, or University authority likely to correct the situation within a reasonable time and the Ombudsman deems it advisable to exhaust this avenue before involving the Office.

5.9  The Ombudsman shall explain to all of the relevant parties the reasons for the Ombudsman's refusal to intervene or decision to withdraw from a case.

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  1. FUNCTIONS

6.1  The Ombudsman performs a variety of functions including:  providing information, referring inquiries to the appropriate individuals or offices, offering advice, intervening to facilitate a resolution, investigating concerns, recommending fair resolutions to individual cases, making recommendations for policy changes and addressing systemic barriers to fair processes.

6.2  The Ombudsman shall act as a source of general information and referral for members of the university community on matters pertaining to University policies, procedures, and resources.  University Dispute Resolution Advisors will also be available to assist students [5]; The Ombudsman will liaise regularly with the University Dispute Resolution Advisors and provide training and assistance to them to aid in the fulfillment of their duties.

6.3  The Ombudsman shall provide advice to members of the university community to help resolve concerns and to assist these individuals in generating and evaluating options and determining an appropriate course of action. The Ombudsman shall encourage individuals, where appropriate, to approach the other party or Office in a dispute directly and to act on their own behalf in resolving concerns.

6.4  Subject to Sections 5.5, 5.6 and 5.7, in cases where the Ombudsman deems it appropriate and with the consent of one of the individual(s) involved, the Ombudsman may intervene to attempt the resolution of a concern. The method of intervention remains at the discretion of the Ombudsman. The University encourages the informal resolution of disputes, which may be achieved with the assistance of the Ombudsman. Any intervention shall be directed at obtaining a resolution in a timely and efficient manner, at the lowest level possible within the organization.

6.5  At the request of any party to a complaint or appeal, the Ombudsman may, at her/his discretion, attend a meeting or hearing if s/he is of the opinion that her/his attendance will help the informal or formal process run more smoothly.

6.6  The Ombudsman may, at her/his discretion, and with the consent of one of the individual(s) involved, conduct an informal inquiry concerning matters that s/he feels warrant such treatment. After concluding the inquiry, the Ombudsman shall evaluate the merits of the concern and notify the parties of her/his findings. When the Ombudsman concludes that a concern is not substantiated, s/he shall explain her/his findings to the individual(s) involved.  Otherwise, the findings may form the basis of a case-specific recommendation and/or a recommendation involving policy and/or procedures, as outlined below.

6.7  The Ombudsman may bring findings after conducting an inquiry to the attention of those in authority and may make recommendations with a view to remedying an individual situation. The Ombudsman shall inform the relevant authority of the scope of his/her inquiry. To the extent that the recommendation(s) are not acted upon, the Ombudsman may bring the matter to the attention of the Audit and Risk Committee of the Board or the Senate, as applicable.

6.8  The Ombudsman may, in writing, bring to the attention of those in authority any policies, rules or procedures that appear unclear, inequitable or unfair. The Ombudsman may suggest changes to existing policies, rules or procedures or offer advice on the development of new policies, rules or procedures.  In these cases those in receipt of such information shall respond, in writing, to the Ombudsman within ninety (90) days of receipt thereof with advice regarding what action, if any, that will be taken to address the concerns raised or, in cases where no action is proposed, a rationale supporting this decision.

6.9  The Ombudsman shall publish an Annual Report containing: statistical information on the number and type of cases handled by the Office, highlights of any general trends identified in the caseload, and recommendations, as necessary. The report shall be provided, for information purposes, to the Board of Trustees, the Senate, the Principal, the AMS and the SGPS and shall be widely distributed within the University community.

6.10  The Principal shall ensure that the appropriate administrators consider and respond to any recommendations contained in any reports or communications originating from the Office.

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  1. ACCESS TO INFORMATION

7.1  In order to fulfill the function of the office, the Ombudsman shall have access to all personnel and official university files, records, and University business information as required, limited only by lawyer and client privilege concerning oral or documentary communications passing between the University and its legal counsel.  Requests for information from, or to meet with, the Ombudsman must be given priority by every employee of the University and responded to in an open, accurate, complete, and timely manner.

7.2  The Ombudsman shall have unrestricted access to all University officials who shall respond to all requests for information pertinent to the mandate of the office as stated herein.

7.3  The Ombudsman shall respect the confidentiality of any confidential information or materials to which he/she has access. However, when required by law or by order of a tribunal of competent jurisdiction, the Ombudsman shall disclose confidential information, but not disclose more information than is required.

Where the Ombudsman believes upon reasonable grounds that there is an imminent risk to an identifiable person or group of serious bodily harm, including serious psychological harm that substantially interferes with health or well-being, he or she may disclose confidential information where it is necessary to do so in order to prevent the harm, but shall not disclose more information than is required.

7.4  Should any information be withheld by officers or agents of the University, these persons shall give reasons in writing to the Ombudsman as to why any information is withheld.  It is the intent of the University to make all available information required for the performance of the duties of the Ombudsman easily and readily available to the Ombudsman.

7.5  Access to files shall be understood in its functional sense and will include the right of the Office to have copies of any document pertaining to the particular case under inquiry that it deems necessary for its file. Copies will be made available only on the express understanding that they are in the sole custody of the Ombudsman, that the contents will be well protected, and that there will be strict adherence to the confidentiality of information of a personal or confidential nature.

7.6  It is understood that copies of documents provided shall remain in the sole possession of the Office with all information remaining strictly confidential pursuant to established university privacy rules and regulations.

7.7  The Ombudsman shall not be required to explain why the information is being sought. All reasonable requests for information pertinent to the functions and purposes of the Office will be honoured and university personnel will be expected to search actively for the answers to all such inquiries and provide them to the Ombudsman, without charge.

7.8  The Ombudsman may seek information from external contacts if it is warranted.

  1. RECORDS AND INFORMATION MANAGEMENT

8.1  The Ombudsman shall maintain suitable records of concerns received, findings, and recommendations that shall be accessible only to the staff of the Office. Such files shall be destroyed according to the established retention schedule; however, no destruction of the file or record will take place while any proceedings are pending in the University, the courts or any outside tribunal and until after all rights of appeal are exhausted or times of appeal have expired.

8.2  Materials received from parties to a matter, or copies of documents submitted to the Ombudsman in his/or her formal capacity, will be deemed property of the Office. An Ombudsman's personal notes will be deemed his/her personal property, and those may be left in the case record files at his/her personal discretion.

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  1. PROHIBITED FUNCTIONS

9.1  Although the Ombudsman is authorized to function in the widest possible context and with minimum constraints, neither the Ombudsman, nor anyone employed within the Office, shall:

  1. act as an advocate of any party during the review of a concern [6];
  2. have a judicial function; the Ombudsman will not make binding decisions in any cases, although the Ombudsman may, where appropriate make recommendations;
  3. make, change, or set aside University policies and procedures although recommendations may be made for their improvement;
  4. be a voting member of any committee, hiring board (save for those constituted for the purpose of the hiring of staff within the Office), faculty board, council of the University or the AMS or SGPS, or any other body on campus although the Ombudsman may act as a consultant thereto; or
  5. accept notice on behalf of any party, including the University.

9.2  The Office is not an office of record; advising the Office of a situation is not a substitute for advising the appropriate authority.

  1. OTHER RELATED DOCUMENTS

Procedural Guidelines for the Office shall be approved by the Advisory Committee and are available on request.

  1. REVIEW

These Terms of Reference and the Procedural Guidelines for the Office, and any changes to them, shall be reviewed periodically by the Ombudsman and the Advisory Committee.  The first such review will take place following the third year of operation of the Office.


[1] The Office recognizes the role of the Rector, who serves   all Queen’s University undergraduate and graduate students as an advisor and advocate in matters pertaining to education. 
[2] SARD (PDF*, 455 KB), s.14.
[3] The word “Ombudsman” as used in these Terms of Reference is intended to cover not only the Ombudsman but also other staff who may be authorized from time to time to carry out certain functions of the Office.
[4] SARD (PDF*, 455 KB) s.12.
[5] SARD (PDF*, 455 KB), s.15
[6] In response to matters arising from a complaint made under University’s Human Rights Policy and Procedure: Harassment, Discrimination, and Accommodation, the Ombudsman is not precluded from advising a respondent(s) to a complaint regarding his/her rights and responsibilities, nor from assisting the respondent(s) to understand the complaint, and supporting the respondent(s) through this process.

*PDF files can be viewed using Adobe Reader.