York’s new ombuds office to play an important fairness role

The new York University Office of the Ombudsperson & Centre for Human Rights, providing impartial conflict resolution to all York faculty, staff and students, is open for business.

Ombudsperson and Director of Human Rights Fiona Crean, and newly appointed senior advisors Debbie Burke-Benn (education & communications), J.R. Richards (case resolution) and advisor Mary Collins, are available to provide conflict resolution services and education. According to Crean, the new Office of the Ombudsperson & Centre for Human Rights will play an important fairness role and will provide an expanded human rights mandate for the University. The combination of the new Office of the Ombudsperson and the Centre for Human Rights is designed to enhance the services available to the York community.

Left: From left, J.R. Richards, Fiona Crean, Mary Collins and Debbie Burke-Benn

“Combining these roles will make for more effective complaints resolution services for students, faculty and staff. Complaints of discrimination and harassment are often inseparable from those of unfairness,” says Crean.  “The new office will address all of the grounds of the Human Rights Code. This ability, in combination with the new ombuds role, ensures it will be well positioned to provide the community with strong complaints resolution capacity and sound educational programming.”

The configuration models the practice of evolving democracies in Africa, South America and Eastern Europe where the ombudsman addresses issues of fair process and human rights. York’s ombuds office will be autonomous, which is essential, says Crean, in addressing problems at individual and systemic levels.

“The creation of this office is a measure of York’s willingness to be scrutinized. Its success will depend in large measure on the University’s willness and capacity for change,” says Crean. “It is a courageous move and a vital component of good governance for any democratic institution.”

The office, which was created on an internationally recognized set of ombuds features including independence, flexibility, accessibility and credibility, will handle complaints and issues related to student life, employment, services and any other aspects in the University that people may encounter and feel are unfair or discriminatory. “We are here as stewards to the community to give advice and information, to conduct workshops, act as mediators, resolve conflicts and pay close attention to interrelationships among policies, processes and human rights.

“The job of an ombuds is to act as a place of last resort to take complaints about unfairness and raise issues about potential problems with administrative processes,” says Crean. “My vision of this office five years from now is that we will be a vibrant and valuable resource for all members of the York community, that much of our work will be educational in content, preventative in nature and that we can all learn and improve from the enquiries and investigation results that we achieve.”

The Office of the Ombudsperson & Centre for Human Rights is located in S327, Ross Building on York’s Keele campus. For more information, call ext.55682, or 416-650-8023 (TTY), or e-mail ombuds@yorku.ca.