“Fairness” is difficult to define and we often rely on parallel concepts and principles like equity and justice, impartiality, even-handedness and reasonableness to illustrate what we think fairness means. This could be because fairness is a shape-shifter, its content very much shaped by the context and circumstances in which it arises. Fairness is also subjectively experienced: we feel fairly or unfairly treated instinctively and at a gut level.
An area of law has developed a set of principles that provide some objective standards in determining fairness, emphasizing its flexible nature and the need to adjust fairness to the situation at hand:
- The right to be heard – includes the right to know about any allegations against you and the right to tell your side of the story
- The right to an unbiased decision-maker
These two fundamental rights branch off to other safeguards to support fair rules, fair processes and fair outcomes (see What is “Fairness?” Info Sheet – PDF). The Fairness Triangle* below illustrates how fairness includes more than the result but also how we are treated. Of particular importance is understanding that fairness doesn’t mean sameness. In fact, treating everyone the same can create and perpetuate unfairness and inequity. While consistency is also a hallmark of fairness, each case before a decision-maker requires consideration of relevant facts and circumstances.
The Ombuds Office believes that fairness for students at UBC needs to be informed by the university’s strategic goals and vision statements. UBC’s core values of mutual respect and equity inform its strategic commitments that include student learning, research excellence, intercultural understanding and the Aboriginal Strategy. Fairness advocated by the Ombuds Office therefore strives to reach beyond legal standards and reflect a sense of community, mutual accountability and compassion.
Three Aspects of Fairness: The Fairness Triangle
*Fairness Triangle used with the permission of Ombudsman Saskatchewan. Developed from the concept of the satisfaction triangle, in:
Moore, Christopher (2003). The Mediation Process: Practical Strategies for Resolving Conflict (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers