A proposed university-mandated leave of absence policy is currently being considered for students who, due to mental illness, display significant impairments in their academic performance or aggressive behaviour toward themselves or others.
This process, currently described in a draft policy, would only occur if supportive resources and other accommodations were not available to the student or were unsuccessful.
The university has been considering the policy “for a few years” according to a Governing Council memo. Its importance initially emerged in the Ombudsperson’s 2014–2015 report. If the Executive Committee endorses the policy on December 5, then it will go before Governing Council on December 14 for approval. The administration expects the policy to be implemented starting in January 2018. The policy will apply to all domestic and international students.
Discussions with registrar’s offices, academic administrators, deans of students, health, wellness and counselling staff, faculty, and student groups are ongoing; revisions of the current draft will be based on the feedback received.
According to the draft policy, if a student’s behaviour requires intervention, the academic division heads will notify the Vice-Provost Students, who decides whether to apply the policy. “I really expect that, if it’s used, it would be used only a very small number of times, in a given year,” said Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh.
The student will be encouraged to seek a voluntary leave of absence. “The hope is that the student will be in a position to be well enough and be working with us to consider a voluntary leave,” said Welsh. She added that if the student does not agree to go on a voluntary leave and the university still has concerns regarding their mental health, the mandated leave will be applied.
Welsh emphasized that the mandated leave is not punitive or disciplinary; rather, it is a policy of last resort. However, the mandated leave policy allows the student in question to appeal the Vice-Provost Student’s decisions to the University Tribunal’s Discipline Appeals Board.
The policy also cannot be applied to students who already have a treatment plan and are able to attend and participate in their classes.
Both mandatory and voluntary leaves of absence have terms and conditions that may include any limitations to the student’s access to campus premises or activities, the addition or removal of any notation of the student’s academic transcript, financial implications, alternative housing arrangement if the student lives in a university residence, consideration of the student’s access to a campus Health and Wellness Centre, and a verification that it is safe for the student to return.
The applicability of terms and conditions of the voluntary leave would be recommended by the student support team, usually comprised of representatives from the student’s program, registrar’s office, and other on-campus support and resources. They are then agreed to by the Vice-Provost Students.
The student will also be assigned a case manager involved in the recommendation of the terms and conditions, responsible for supporting the student, providing them with resources, and facilitating between them and the university.
The policy allows the university to implement the leave more efficiently and grants the student more access to the help they need. In the past, U of T used the Code of Student Conduct to enforce the leave; Welsh believes that its use is a disciplinary policy and is not appropriate if students have serious mental health issue.
“We’re very impressed with the policy,” wrote Mathias Memmel, President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union. “We’ve discussed it at length with the Vice-Provost, Students, and the university has implemented many of our suggestions.”
Although Memmel stated that the policy is “clearly a very positive development,” he believes that the decision to mandate the leave should only be made in consultation with a medical professional. He also suggested that the university produce two guides to the policy: one specifically for medical professionals and one for students.