Kristen Robillard and Sally Spilhaus
by Barbara Black
Sally Spilhaus and Kristen
Robillard are just across the street from each other now, but theyre
looking forward to sharing adjacent office space in a few months. The
reason is their professional affinity.
Spilhaus is the Advisor to the Rector on Rights and Responsibilities,
while Robillard is the University Ombudsperson. However often they may
brainstorm and consult with one another, though, their jobs are different.
Spilhaus deals with reports of unacceptable behaviour, while Robillard
deals with the policies, rules and procedures of the university, from
the marking system to the payment of fees, and how they are applied. They
function independently and impartially, but I guess we could say
that the two offices balance each other, Spilhaus said.
For example, I had a case last year of a student who was acting
out in the classroom and became quite violent at one point. At one point
he had questions about the way he was treated throughout the process of
dealing with his behaviour, and he went to Kristen for that.
Neither automatically takes the side of the person who comes to them,
although they listen carefully and sympathetically. In Robillards
case, she weighs up the evidence, examines the rules and policies that
apply, and then gives her opinion of what is fair, and what can be done.
Shell support a complainant who hasnt been treated fairly,
but if the university has behaved appropriately, I have to say so
and explain my reasoning.
Spilhaus takes a similar approach. Im simply advising, giving
the person the sort of information they need to make an informed decision
about what to do. If they decide to make a formal complaint, then I make
sure that the universitys procedures are applied.
In an emergency, Spilhaus becomes an agent for the university, and her
role is to minimize risk to the rest of us. She says that Concordias
procedures to deal with threatening behaviour have vastly improved since
the Fabrikant murders of August 1992.
She was one of the principal authors of a protocol that provides a coordinated
response across the university, an important legacy of that experience.
Lots of people were trying to do things, but they were going in
different directions, she said. Now the information is centralized,
and the decisions are taken on the best available information. She
has had many requests for information from other universities as a result
of the work done in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Both women work closely with other departments Security (in Spilhauss
case), Student Services and the Dean of Students and Legal Counsel. Robillard
also works with faculty members, the vice-deans for student affairs and
A lot of time is spent defining the problem, Robillard said.
Sometimes people come in with a huge problem thats very vague,
full of emotion and anger, and you have to bring it down to something
thats manageable. That takes time and experience and skill.
Spilhaus added, The difficulty, of course, is that initially, youre
reacting to one persons side of the story. When you get all
the facts, things may look different.
How you deal with these problems depends on the issue and the persons
motivation, Robillard said. In most of the 520 cases the Office
dealt with last year, we simply provided information and advice about
how to resolve a problem. In the other cases, we intervened on the persons
behalf or conducted a formal investigation and made recommendations.
The complaints Spilhaus gets about conflict and behaviour have similarities,
including a fair amount of cultural misunderstanding, but every emergency
is unique. Some of these involve mental illness.
In the 120-odd situations she handles every year, only three or four end
in a formal complaint. If the complaint is against a student, it goes
to a student hearing board; if its against an employee, it is handled
by the person who is responsible for discipline under that persons
Robillard has only been at Concordia since February, when she replaced
Suzanne Belson, who was in the position for more than 20 years. She is
a social worker with legal training, and her previous experience was in
the CLSC health and social service network. She has had to learn a lot
about the academic subculture, its hierarchies and archaisms, but she
loves the challenge of her work.
Spilhaus was the director of a womens shelter before coming to the
university in 1991 as Sexual Harassment Officer. In a post that at some
other universities has been plagued with political naiveté and
impulsiveness, she earned a reputation for strength, sensitivity and fairness,
and has essentially created the expanded role she now occupies.
Her greatest satisfaction is to find that she has been a successful mentor.
I think the situations I like best are the ones where the student
solves the problem with me doing the coaching. Then they can say, I learned
For more information, please consult the offices respective Web