The University of Toronto is undergoing consultations for a new university-mandated leave of absence policy that will allow the administration to recommend students struggling with severe mental health concerns to take a leave of absence.
This policy has been in development since the 2014-2015 ombudsperson’s report and is meant to provide help to students whose academic performance has been impacted by their mental health. Currently, the University Mandated Leave of Absence policy is being discussed across the three campuses for information purposes only.
“It’s important to note that this is not a policy that a student can request. It’s not a policy for a student who may be already engaging in a health care treatment plan and is able to go to class and participate in class,” stated Sandy Welsh, vice-provost students in an interview with The Medium.
According to Welsh, the policy is designed to help establish a process for instances when a student’s mental health prevents them from functioning in class, as well as if they have demonstrated aggressive behaviors towards themselves or to others.
“It’s really for the very rare situations where we have concerns about a student and they’re either unable to continue in their studies, they are very unwell, and for the best interest for the student, they can stop their studies and get well again, we’d be using this policy,” Welsh said.
“It’s also important to note that this is a policy of last resort. The policy does require that before we move to this stage that we’ve attempted to have the student to choose to go on a voluntary leave of absence,” she continued.
If a student elects to willingly choose to go on a leave of absence or follow the mandated leave policy, the university will put into place a series of terms and conditions required of the student during their absence.
According to the draft policy section G., paragraphs 39 and 40, such terms may include a re-evaluation if the student poses a threat to themselves or others; the student’s method of communication with the university while on leave; and the student’s level of access to the campus and co-curricular activities.
If the student was placed on leave due to behavior concerns, the draft policy states: “Where the University considers it appropriate, the terms and conditions may include a provision limiting the Student’s ability to be on University premises or part of the premises for the duration of the Leave of Absence. The terms and conditions could include that the Student may visit the University only if authorized in writing by the Student Case Manager, and may only communicate with designated University personnel and only for purposes related to the application of this Policy.”
The mandated leave of absence policy would be overseen by the academic division heads. The principal or dean of a student’s division or college would then request the vice-provost of students to implement this policy for a particular student.
According to Welsh, without this policy in the past, the university used the student code of conduct as a means to implement a leave. The new policy permits the university to put a student on leave more efficiently and allows students to receive the help they may require.
Welsh stressed that this policy is not a form of discipline, but instead a means to address mental health concerns.
The draft policy states that “all students in good standing at the University of Toronto should have the opportunity to pursue their academic aspirations.”
According to Welsh, “good standing” is synonymous with “eligible to register.”
“It applies to all students, it’s one of the ways we refer to in a general principle way that the students are connected to the university,” Welsh stated.
The university would assign a student case manager, while the student is on leave, to assist the student during the mandated leave process.
“This would be a support person. It could be someone from the registrar’s office, or someone from another part of the university who has been supporting that student, and that person would be working and talking with that student to explain the process,” Welsh explained.
“As well in my role as vice-provost students, under this policy, I would be seeking advice from appropriate people to fit that case as well some of those people may be providing support and working with that student.”
Welsh also added that her office has been in consultations with the deans of students, registrars, and student unions over the course of the spring and summer.
After the consultations period, the policy will move to the university’s Governing Council for approval of implementation. The policy will then be used as soon as approval from Governing Council has been obtained.
According to Welsh, the policy is estimated to be in effect no later than the next academic year.