U of T considering new policies regarding student mental health. STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto is currently considering a university-mandated leave of absence policy that would affect students with mental issues that impact their academic engagements or pose a serious threat to themselves or people surrounding them. The university has been considering the policy since 2015, when it was part of the Ombudsperson’s 2014–2015 report.

Among the items discussed at the October 5 Academic Board meeting was the discussion on the leave of absence policy. Vice-Provost Students Sandy Welsh presented the policy.

According to the meeting report, “the proposed Policy was a result of a great deal of consultation and related to the Ombudsperson’s report over the past several years, which had identified the need for a policy like this. The proposed Policy had a built-in mechanism to ensure fair process and provides for a review and appeal.”

The document has circulated through several governance structures for information and discussion, first through the University Affairs Board, then the UTSC and UTM campus councils, and finally the Academic Board. The document will then go through the same cycle for approval before going to the Executive Committee for an endorsement and then the Governing Council.

In an interview with The Varsity, Welsh said that if the Academic Board does not recommend the motion, then it would not go to Governing Council.

Welsh justified the proposed guidelines of the policy, citing precedent in Canada and in the United States. “There are many Canadian and US universities that have this as a stand-alone policy or it’s part of a broader policy around students’ conduct or student issues,” she said.

If the policy were implemented, the financial aid status of students, including whether they receive OSAP, would be taken into consideration when imposing the mandated leave. Consultations between the student, their case manager, and the university’s financial aid office would occur. Similar talks would take place for international students being considered for mandated leave — with their student case manager, they would work with an international student advisor on their case. Students are expected to be actively enrolled in their program of study during the validity of their Study Permit, and they could face consequences during extended mandatory leave of absences.

“What we do know is that a leave may provide more options than a student simply withdrawing from their studies,” said Welsh. “A leave is a way that we’re able to look at what our options to support the international students are while they’re getting the care that they need.”

The university currently uses the Code of Student Conduct for potential leaves of absence. “In urgent situations involving serious threats or violent behaviour, the code allows for a student to be suspended under the interim measures of the clause of the code,” she said. The code is designed to be punitive; the proposed policy is not.

The university currently has no institution-wide leave of absence policy. According to Welsh, the School of Graduate Studies allows students to go on a voluntary leave of absence for reasons of serious health or personal programs. Members of the Faculty of Law and students in the MD program of the Faculty of Medicine wishing to take a leave can request one voluntarily, but requests will only be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and are not guaranteed.

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