Door always open to Ombudsman Office
September 26, 2016
University Ombudsman Harry Smith strikes a diplomatic tone when explaining how his office supports staff, faculty, and students.
“The Office of the University Ombudsman works in a complementary manner with individuals and other offices on campus,” he says. “Queen’s has policies and procedures in place to handle complaints and concerns, so we are here really to offer independent, impartial, and confidential advice for members of the university community who may have questions about dispute resolution processes.”
As Mr. Smith points out, the employment relationship is governed by employment legislation and the university’s human resources policies. For several employee groups, collective agreements govern the working relationship. “The Department of Human Resources, Faculty Relations, and bargaining unit representatives are best suited to respond to the vast majority of issues,” Mr. Smith says.
For staff members not covered by a collective agreement, the Office of the University Ombudsman can help individuals – whether from confidential and research or managerial and professional groups – evaluate their options and decide for themselves the appropriate course of action.
“As the Ombudsman, I am here to help the staff member identify the underlying problem, discuss the options that may be available, and provide a degree of support as she or he works through the situation,” he says.
This may include, for example, matters related to supervisory relationships, co-worker concerns or external issues that may be impacting performance in the workplace.
“In some situations, the matters brought forth may not necessarily be the subject of a grievance, but rather concerns about problems in the work setting,” Mr. Smith says. “Generally speaking, there is a common interest at the university to resolve workplace issues at the earliest opportunity in a fair and respectful manner and, ideally, without having to resort to the formal complaint process.”
Independent advice for students
Students are informed of the Office of the University Ombudsman and its services when they receive a letter regarding an academic or non-academic matter.
“Students are given the opportunity to seek information outside of their school or faculty to understand how a process works, get feedback when they are considering an appeal, or learn how to approach a board or committee if they have to appear in front of one,” Mr. Smith says.
While the Office of the University Ombudsman serves a diverse community of students as well as faculty and staff, its work is united by a common principle.
“We aim to keep the door open to everyone,” Mr. Smith says. “If people contact the office, we are here to listen. That’s not to say once you contact our office you are committed to something or the issue will be addressed through our office. In many cases, it’s really a starting point for a conversation.”