Understanding fairness at UM
The University of Manitoba strives to create a “fair and equitable environment in which to work and learn.” If a student feels they have been treated unfairly by the U of M, there are several mechanisms, supports and services available to help provide a resolution.
To decide which mechanism/support/service is the best option for a given student, it is helpful to understand how fairness works at the U of M. Administrative staff at the U of M has authority to make decisions about, and to hear complaints from, students. Examples of administrative staff include: Department Heads, Directors, Deans and Associate Deans. There are also discipline and academic committees at the U of M which make decisions and hear complaints. Whichever administrative staff makes a decision or hears a complaint, complete fairness requires substantive fairness, procedural fairness, and relational fairness.
Procedural fairness relates to the steps taken by administrative staff before and after making a decision or responding to a complaint. Procedural fairness requires the provision of:
- Notice. The student who is the subject of an academic or discipline matter must be given advance notice that the matter is under consideration. The student needs to know what issue(s) is/are being considered, and be provided with a reasonable amount of time to prepare any submission for the decision maker’s consideration. Similarly, a student who makes a complaint must be notified of the process and (in most cases), be advised of the outcome(s).
- Information. Students must have access to the information that will be considered when a decision is made. This information helps the student formulate their position or response when communicating with the administrative staff.
- Right to Respond. The student who is subject to a decision must be given a meaningful opportunity to have their opinion heard or otherwise considered. In the same way, a student making a complaint must be given the opportunity to communicate their concerns fully. Depending on the situation, the student is able to state their case at a meeting, hearing, or through written submission.
- Impartiality. The administrative staff must be impartial and unbiased (without a personal interest in the outcome of the decision or complaint).
- Reasons. The administrative staff must give meaningful reasons for the decision or the complaint outcome. The reasons must be understandable to the student. Reasons for a decision or complaint outcome should demonstrate the administrator has fully and fairly considered the issues. The reasons explain the “why” behind a decision or outcome. Reasons are part of a formal decision or outcome letter to the student.
Substantive fairness relates to the fairness of the decision itself. For example, substantive fairness requires:
- Authority. The administrative staff in question must have the authority under U of M policies to make the decision or respond to the complaint.
- Freedom from prejudice. The decision or outcome cannot discriminate against the student on any of the prohibited grounds listed in the Manitoba Human Rights Code or the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, such as marital status, race, religion, sexual orientation, or disability.
- Clarity of reasoning. The rationale behind the decision or outcome must involve clear reasoning, and must be understandable to the student and anyone else affected by it.
Relational fairness relates to how the affected student feels about the process, the decision, or the complaint outcome. Sometimes called the “soft” side of fairness, it requires the following:
- Attention. The administrative staff takes the time to listen to the point of view and evidence submitted by the student.
- Approachability. The administrative staff must be approachable and easy to communicate with interpersonally regarding the decision or complaint processes.
- Maintenance of confidentiality. The administrative staff must respect student confidentiality during and after the process, as allowed for by the relevant policies/procedures involved.
- Honesty. The administrative staff must remain honest and forthright in their dealings with students and others affected by decisions made about students. Administrative staff also cannot mislead a student about what they have the power/authority to do.
- Accountability. Administrative staff should offer apology if they make a mistake during or after the decision or complaint process.
- Freedom from retaliation. “Academic staff members shall not retaliate against a student who has filed a complaint, whether the complaint was substantiated or unsubstantiated (Responsibilities of Academic Staff with Regard to Students, Section IV, 7, 1)
Sections on the three types of fairness (above) adapted and used with permission from the Manitoba Ombudsman’s “Achieving Fairness: Your Guide to Dealing with Government.”