The Government of Ontario recently introduced two pieces of legislation that may affect the provinces universities. Bill 151 has the potential to increase government access to university data, while Bill 179 extends ombudsman oversight over universities.
Bill 151, the Strengthening and Improving Government Act, was introduced at the end of December. It has had one round of second reading debate, but has not yet been voted on. The Bill is intended to be housekeeping legislation, and will increase government access to student data in order to facilitate the implementation of the Ontario Education Number (OEN) system. However, it may also have the effect of increasing access to faculty data. OCUFA is concerned about this potential intrusion into our members’ personal information. We raised these concerns about the Bill with the Ministers of Training Colleges and Universities and the Minister of Government Services. We will also be working with civil service staff in the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities to address our concerns in the coming weeks.
Bill 179, which places universities under the purview of the provincial Ombudsman, was introduced on March 24, 2014. It is not clear what powers the Ombudsman will have in relation to universities, although they will likely include the ability to investigate complaints. If clumsily applied to teaching and course design, these new powers may threaten academic freedom. We are seeking legal advice on the implications of this policy for our members, and will be tracking the legislation closely.