By Doug Sweet
Chemical Engineering Professor Dimitrios Berk’s main area of research has to do with catalysts – chemicals or materials that help make something happen.
In his new role as McGill’s Ombudsperson for Students, which began on Sept. 2, Berk will himself be acting as a sort of catalyst – trying to help make something happen in terms of solving a student’s problem with the University.
“It’s a people-oriented position,” he says, “so I think it’s a different challenge from what we have in Engineering.” He’s looking forward to that challenge and says he has a lot to learn.
Berk replaces Spencer Boudreau, whose five-year term has come to an end. An Ombudsperson’s term cannot be renewed.
A 30-year veteran of McGill and a past Chair (2004-12) of Chemical Engineering who has served on a wide variety of committees within the Department and Faculty, the affable Berk, 63, said he has very much enjoyed the contact he’s had with students.
“I like dealing with students. I like talking with them. I think they sometimes have very legitimate problems.
“Ideally, there would be no need for an Ombudsperson,” he says, “but there are misunderstandings” and they need to be sorted out.
The Ombudsperson’s mandate is to provide confidential, informal, independent and neutral dispute-resolution services to all members of the student community by providing information, advice, intervention and referrals. The Board of Governors makes the appointment, on the recommendation of a joint Senate/ Board Committee, one-quarter of whose members must be students. Normally, the Ombudsperson is appointed from the tenured academic staff who are well respected by both students and other members of the McGill community.
The Board ratified Berk’s appointment at its April meeting.
According to the Ombudsperson’s website: “The Ombudsperson is an advocate for a fair process according to the mission of the University and not an advocate for the individual or for the administration. He works independently of University structures, considers all sides of a question as impartially and objectively as possible, mindful of possible conflicts of interest. The Ombudsperson at McGill operates in an advisory capacity, and relies on the cooperation and good will of students, faculty and the administration of the University community.”
Berk, who grew up in Istanbul, came to Canada in 1974, doing graduate work at what was then the University of Western Ontario (now Western University) and a doctorate at the University of Calgary. As per the terms of reference for the Ombudsperson’s job, he’ll divide his time 50-50 between his Ombudsperson’s duties and his work as a research and teacher.
“The Ombudsperson will be there,” he says. “The door will be open. I hope I can work together with students in a calm fashion to resolve their difficulties.”
To contact the Ombudsperson for Students, call 514-398-7059 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more about the role and scope of the Ombudsperson for Students go here (English) and here (French).