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Mental health, academic conduct are focus of Joan Foley’s final report

Privilege to be allowed insight into so many lives, outgoing ombudsperson says

The ombudsperson's recommendations with regard to mental health and academic integrity have all been accepted by the university administration (above photo by Ken Jones/ photo below by Johnny Guatto)

“It has been my privilege to be allowed insight into the lives of so many individual members of the University community, and the circumstances under which they work and study,” writes Joan Foley in her final report as University Ombudsperson.

“It has been a stimulating and rewarding experience that has taught me much about this institution and its challenges.”

Foley stepped down earlier this year after eight years as ombudsperson, to be replaced by Ellen Hodnett. Her final report to the university community deals with the period from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015. 

In the report, Foley makes several recommendations to the University with regard to mental health and academic integrity, all of which have been accepted by the university administration.

Read a profile of Foley

Read a profile of Hodnett

The ombudsperson’s role is to help members of the University community by identifying options, explaining University policies, providing neutral advice and assisting parties to resolve disputes. The ombudsperson also has an obligation to bring to the attention of university administrators “those issues of broader significance that merit review,” Foley says.

According to the report, the Ombudsperson office handled 314 individual requests for assistance in 2014-2015, of which it resolved 29, provided information in 164 cases and referred 74 cases to the appropriate university department. Undergraduate students made the most requests (133), mostly about academic issues, such as instructor behaviour, exam arrangements and allegations of academic misconduct. Graduate students also made a number of requests (94), most concerning supervision problems, academic issues and financial assistance difficulties. Administrative and academic staff also contacted the Ombudsperson office about a wide variety of workplace issues.

Besides individual cases, Foley focused on two issues of broader significance: mental health and academic integrity. With regard to mental health, Foley acknowledges that U of T has made considerable progress in its efforts to support students, but says much more needs to be done. In particular, the university should develop a policy regarding “student conduct that gives rise to concern when mental illness is believed to be involved.” 

With regard to academic integrity, Foley recommends improved systems support to assist instructors, department chairs and divisional offices in addressing issues of academic integrity; and interactive online resources to assist in the education of students about the importance and practice of academic integrity and to supplement existing services that assist students in the development of academic skills.

In its response to the report, the University administration accepts all of the recommendations. With regard to mental health, the university’s response says, “Divisions across the University have identified student mental health needs and the resulting implications for both academic progress and student conduct as a priority. To that end, senior administrators, instructors, and staff continue to work together on strategies to optimize the teaching and learning environment for all members of the University community.”

Regarding academic integrity, the university responds that it will “continue to seek various ways in which to encourage consistency of approach towards academic integrity across divisions,” noting that a new student-focused website on academic integrity (academicintegrity.utoronto.ca) is continually being enhanced. 

“The Administration is greatly appreciative of the dedication and service of Professor Foley and her team and recognizes that their hard work benefits the University’s students, faculty, staff, and community members,” the University’s response concludes.

photo of Joan Foley