The University of Toronto has withdrawn the university-mandated leave of absence policy proposal from the current governance cycle, following concerns raised by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in a letter to the university.
The OHRC’s letter alleged that the university’s policy “falls short of meeting the duty to accommodate” as outlined by the OHRC.” Initially proposed last year, the policy would have allowed students with mental health issues to be put on mandatory leave of absence from school if seriously harmful behaviour has been displayed.
According to Sandy Welsh, U of T’s vice-provost students, the letter is currently being reviewed by the university.
“We continue to be confident that the proposed policy is compliant with the Ontario Human Right’s Code. We’re taking the time now to address the policy. We only just received the letter and we want to take the time to incorporate the relevant legal factors that can be easily seen and understood by all members ofour community,” Welsh stated.
The proposed policy has faced opposition from several student organizations, such as U of T’s Art and Science Student Union. The ASSU called the policy “explicitly punitive” in an online Facebook post. Welsh denies that the policy is meant as a form of discipline in any capacity.
The union also drafted an open letter to the vice-provost calling on the withdrawal of the policy.
“The Office of the Vice-President and Provost has introduced a policy that will, in effect, force students to leave the confines of the University, including their friends, housing, and co-curricular activities, to seek medical support outside of their community,” the letter reads.
Welsh stated that a new timeline for an edited proposal has not yet been determined. If the policy undergoes substantial changes and is re-entered into the governance system for approval, it may need to begin the approval process once more.
According to Welsh, the vice-provost students office had been in consultations with students throughout the development of the policy and will continue to conduct meetings with student groups.
Welsh also explained the university’s intent to increase budgeting for mental health, including more counsellors across campuses, in hopes of increasing student access to mental health resources.
“The mental health crisis on campus is very real. We hope that the withdrawal of this policy is a step towards university administrators addressing our demands of prioritizing increasing funding to the chronically underfunded mental health and accessibility resources on campus and to address these issues through a student-oriented, disability justice framework,” wrote ASSU’s executive Nooria Alam in an email to The Medium.
“It’s shameful that it required the involvement of the Ontario Human Rights Commissioner for the university to withdraw the policy in the face of concerns voiced by student leaders, faculty, staff and disability justice advocates alike,” Alam continued.
The University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union has also vocalized opposition to the policy.
“The UTMSU has been in discussion with the Vice Provost, Students and her office about the mandated leave policy since the first semester. Throughout, we had provided issues that we had with the policy but the it seemed like the policy was going through regardless of major criticisms. The vice-provost students office was rushing this through governance and we lobbied for this to be considered later after an extensive review and student input,” UTMSU’s president Salma Fakhry stated.
“Even with edits made to the policy to make it better, the policy as a whole did not sit well with us and made us feel we were not being heard. The fact that the Ontario Human Rights Commission has intervened is indicative of how far the administration is from understanding student accommodation, “added Fakhry.
As previously reported by The Medium, the initial policy proposed that in rare cases, the administration would place the student on a leave of absence from the university. The policy would be used in cases where students were deemed dangerous to their own safety and to the safety of their peers by the administration.
Welsh did not confirm if amendments to the policy will be made indefinitely or when the policy would be re-released.