The University of Western Ontario is a large and complex institution. There are many resources to help students, but knowing about those resources and deciding to seek help are another matter! Students are bombarded with new information daily. And, they often feel they should be able to handle a problem all by themselves.
You can help the student in your life by encouraging him or her to seek and use appropriate help. A student's time is valuable. Finding the right resources saves time. Addressing problems early, before they get out of hand, is one of the important keys to student success. The Office of the Ombudsperson is a good place to start a student isn't sure where to turn.
The Office of the Ombudsperson can suggest approaches or avenues in regard to any student concern about the University – academic or non-academic.
Policies, procedures, rules and deadlines
The policies, procedures and rules of the University do not always make much sense when taken out of context. In some courses, attendance is mandatory. In others, attendance, while expected, is not mandatory. Students have to hand in work by a deadline, but their work may not be returned to them for weeks. Deadlines may seem arbitrary, and decision-making may seem inconsistent.
Parents and family members are welcome to contact the Office of the Ombudsperson to discuss University policies, procedures, rules and deadlines.
Student rights and responsibilities
When a decision seems unfair to a student, is it worth his or her time to appeal? How can he or she do that? How long does it take? How likely is it that the decision will be changed?
Decisions are made about students at many points in the course of their university study. Students, too, make many decisions and choices themselves:
where and with whom to live;
which program to study;
which courses to take;
what extracurricular activities to engage in;
basic goal and career plan.
Just as available funds will limit where a student can live, so a student's past academic and other achievements will limit a student's choice of program of study.
Parents and family members are welcome to contact the Office of the Ombudsperson to discuss avenues of recourse when decisions or constraints seem questionable or unfair.
Confidentiality of student information
Student information is confidential and private, and the Office of the Ombudsperson, like other university offices and departments, will not discuss an individual student's situation with anyone, not even a parent or family member, without the express permission of that student.
The Office of the Ombudsperson is constrained not only by the fact that student information is confidential and private, but by the additional fact that the Office works in confidence. That means that when the Ombudsperson discusses a student's situation with an Associate Dean or other staff or faculty member, that discussion is confidential. The Ombudsperson will pass on to the student only the information or points the Associate Dean agrees may be passed on.
What this means for you, the concerned parent or family member, is that the Ombudsperson cannot introduce into a discussion with you any information specifically about the student in question unless express permission has been granted by the student.
(a) Ms. Lisa Brown calls the Ombudsperson because her daughter, Georgia, has been accused of plagiarism.
What the Ombudsperson will do:
Discuss the details Ms. Brown provides, and
Describe the University's Scholastic Discipline policy and the procedures for determining guilt, as well as the right to appeal such a finding.
What the Ombudsperson will not do:
She will not confirm or deny having any contact with the student, Georgia Brown;
She will exclude from discussion any information about this alleged plagiarism incident she may have from Ms. Brown's daughter or indeed from any other source.
If Ms. Brown asks, "Have you seen my daughter? She told me she would make an appointment," the Ombudsperson will explain that she works in confidence, and cannot confirm or deny having seen the student. (Incidentally, the Ombudsperson will say exactly the same thing if the student's professor or Associate Dean calls.)
(b) A student, Mr. Oliver Green, contacts the Ombudsperson to discuss his situation. He has been required to withdraw from the University because his academic performance did not meet the requirements for progression. Mr. Green plans to appeal for a Dean's Waiver, citing serious health issues in the second term as the reason for his weak performance. He told his mother all about his situation, and gave permission for the Ombudsperson to discuss it with her.
What the Ombudsperson will do:
Discuss the situation openly with Ms. Green, keeping confidential only information, if any, which she promised other parties she would keep confidential.
Besides calling the Office of the Ombudsperson, there are many other ways a parent or family member can learn about the University and its rules and regulations. The University website (www.uwo.ca) provides access to the University Calendars, as well as specific information about rules and regulations, faculties and departments, and resources such as the Office of the Registrar, Student Development Centre, the Centre for New Students, the Office of the Ombudsperson, and student associations such as the Society of Graduate Students and the University Students' Council. The Affiliated Colleges have websites linked to the University website. The Calendar and much other documentation is available in hard copy.
Should you contact others in the University about your son, daughter or relative? The University regards students as adults, able to manage their own affairs. Faculty and staff are not at liberty to discuss a student without that student's permission, and they will usually require that permission in writing. While many do understand that it may be important for the student to have the moral support or the actual assistance of a family member in handling an issue, some may not. Both you and the student need to use your discretion in this matter.
10/2004 (Frances Bauer wrote the original text.) Updated 05/2006.