Over two hundred years ago, Lars Augustin Mannerheim became the first Parliamentary Ombudsman appointed in Sweden. In this context, the word ‘ombudsman’ meant ‘citizen’s defender’. It was the job of the ombudsman to protect individual citizens against the excesses of bureaucracy, and this root meaning continues today in public sector ombudsman offices.
In 1965, the students at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, inspired by the legislative ombuds concept newly adopted in New Zealand, created the first ombudsman at a North American institution of higher education. Other university and college ombuds offices soon followed. For a historical overview of ombuds in higher education in Canada and worldwide, please see: “Celebrating Ombuds in Higher Education – ACCUO 1983-2013” .
In November 1979, the Ombudsman Office at Concordia University in Montreal organized a conference for ombudspersons. At a later conference, in 1983, participants voted to form an association: the Association of Canadian College and University Ombudsman. In its initial years, the association existed primarily for the purpose of putting on a conference each year. In 1989, the membership voted to change the name, substituting Ombudspersons for Ombudsmen. In 1990, the ACCUO membership adopted a constitution and created officer positions.
At its June 8, 2012 AGM, ACCUO adopted Standards of Practice to serve as a guide for the establishment of practices, policies and procedures in ombudsperson offices, while taking into account distinct institutional contexts. The standards reflect the unique nature of the work of ombudspersons in post-secondary institutions in Canada. With a focus on fairness, equity and respect, the ombudsperson builds capacity for accountability and facilitates fair resolutions that foster trust between an individual and the institution.
The word “ombudsman” is Swedish. Ombudspersons in Canadian post-secondary institutions sometimes carry a different title such as ombudsman, ombuds or ombud. For purposes of clarity, the ACCUO Constitution uses the term “ombudsperson” to describe the position and the term “ombuds” as an adjective when describing the work of an Ombudsperson