The referendum vote will run from March 25–27. Photo: Rame Abdulkader/The Fulcrum
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Semesterly fee would rise to $1.50 for undergraduate students

The Office of the Ombudsperson is looking to increase its student levy in the upcoming University of Ottawa Students’ Union (UOSU) general elections, which are taking place in late March, through a referendum. 

If the referendum passes, semesterly fees for the ombudsperson at the U of O would increase from $1.06 to $1.50 for both full-time and part-time undergraduate students.

The Graduate Students’ Association of the University of Ottawa (GSAÉD) is looking to hold a referendum on increasing the Office of the Ombudsperson levy as well, but that vote still needs to be approved at a meeting later this month.

The Office of the Ombudsperson is an “independent, impartial, and confidential resource to help resolve university-related concerns and complaints, with a focus on fairness and serves all students and employees,” according to an information sheet provided by the office. 

Students can turn to the office for a number of resources, including information about rights, responsibilities, procedures, and options to resolve issues, along with confidential advice and coaching to raise issues effectively and manage conflicts. 

The ombudsperson can also conduct independent and impartial reviews or investigations into an issue and refer students to other resources on campus that it doesn’t replace, such as the Human Rights Office. The ombudsperson can make recommendations to improve systems and structures on campus as well.

“The one-liner is we help students, staff, and faculty resolve university-related issues,” said ombudsperson Martine Conway in an interview with the Fulcrum. 

According to Conway, who works in conjunction with the assistant ombudsperson to run the two-person office, the referendum is being proposed because the service has not seen a funding increase since it was launched back in 2010. 

Conway said those funding levels set 10 years ago aren’t meeting the current costs of running the office, which has seen the number of files it annually processes rise from 174 in the 2010-11 academic year to 650 in 2018-19. 

The office itself has two funding sources: The university administration covers half, while the UOSU and the GSAÉD work together to cover the other half through their respective student levies. 

According to Conway, these increased costs haven’t necessarily negatively impacted the office since the administration would pitch in if there was a shortfall from student levies, but the goal of the referendum is to “bring the funding in line with the 50-50 agreement.” 

“It corresponds to the real cost of the office, staffing and benefits and operation of the office, which was not taken into account previously because the funding had not kept up,” said Conway.

Voting for the UOSU general elections and Office of the Ombudsperson referendum runs from March 25-27. 

In the UOSU general elections, seven seats on the union’s executive will be up for grabs: president, advocacy commissioner, student life commissioner, equity commissioner, francophone affairs commissioner, and student services commissioner. 

Meanwhile, students can vie for 22 spots on the union’s BOD, with the number of seats varying by faculty.