Fighting for student rights

By Kim Stock

Students’ Union Vice-president Academic Toireasa Jespersen has implemented her own SU expansion project.

Scrapping last year’s proposal to have an ombudsoffice for students to seek academic advice, Jespersen has replaced it with a student rights advisor program.

Unlike the original idea of having a neutral ombudsoffice (whereby the ombuds would, in theory, favour neither the students’ position nor the university position in academic appeals), the student rights advisor would take a definitive stance in favour of the student.

"A student rights advisor would be someone who looks after answering student questions, clarifying institutional regulations, critiquing and editing appeal letters, helping students figure out if they have a case or not, and providing education in due process to students," wrote Jespersen in her motion to reallocate ombudsoffice funding to the student rights program.

The ombudsoffice would have been directly affiliated with the U of C, making neutrality extremely difficult. The student rights advisor, however, will be independent of the U of C.
"This is better, first of all, because it’s arms length from the university," said SU President Paul Galbraith.

"There is no confusion about who they [the student rights advisor] report to–directly to the SU," added Jespersen. "The student still owns the problem, but has a coach."

Thirty thousand dollars of SU money originally intended for the ombudsoffice program was approved by the 56th SLC for reallocation toward the implementation of the student rights advisor.

"The money is well spent," said Galbraith. "It’s cheaper than the ombudsoffice."
The move to institute a student rights advisor basically divides the duties of the SU VP Academic into two separate positions, dividing political action taken and the direct student services that the VP Academic is currently responsible for.
"This way the students don’t have to suffer if the VP Academic doesn’t make it [direct student service] a priority," said Jespersen.

Continuity is also offered by enlisting a student rights advisor as part of the SU staff. It would be a permanent position, so the re-learning process would not have to occur every year as new officials (specifically the VP Academic, who has historically taken on this role) are elected to SU posts.

As funds have already been reallocated to the student rights advisor project, there is nothing standing in the way of setting up this endeavour. Jespersen said that before the end of her term in office as VP Academic, she would like to see the student rights advisor program in full force.

"Fabulous. I think it’s a fabulous idea," said Galbraith. "Thumbs up all the way."

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