Ryerson Students’ Union condemns U of T’s proposed mandatory leave of absence policy

VP Equity calls policy “shameful”
The letter of condemnation was co-signed by the RSU and the university’s centre for disabilities.
The letter of condemnation was co-signed by the RSU and the university’s centre for disabilities. MIN HO LEE/THE VARSITY

The Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) has passed a motion to co-sign a letter condemning U of T’s proposed university-mandated leave of absence policy. The policy has already stirred up controversy at U of T.

Hollie Olenik, an RSU board member from the Faculty of Communications and Design, introduced the motion at the November 23 Board of Directors meeting.

The proposed leave policy, in its current format, would allow the university to put students whose mental health issues pose a physical threat to themselves or others, or impact their academics negatively, on a non-punitive yet mandatory leave of absence. The proposed policy is distinct from regular mandatory leaves. Students in this situation would currently be placed on leave in accordance with the Code of Student Conduct.

At the meeting, Olenik called the policy “damaging,” adding, “I would not be this riled up about it if it wasn’t this important.”

The RSU’s co-signer of the letter is RyeACCESS, the university’s centre for disabilities.

“The employees [at RyeACCESS] wrote a letter of solidarity and support for Students for Barrier Free Access and asked if I would help get the support of the RSU,” said Olenik. “I thought that the policy was an important one to speak out against and brought the motion forward.”

Regarding why the RSU board condemned an action at another university, Olenik said, “I think it’s important as a board member to advocate for all students, regardless of which institution they attend. A policy [like this] as always has the potential to be adopted by the Ryerson administration.”

Ryerson University does not currently have a mandatory leave of absence policy. Lauren Clegg, Media Relations Officer at Ryerson, declined to comment on the RSU’s motion or U of T’s leave policy.

Susanne Nyaga, President of the RSU, wrote to The Varsity, “Historically we have seen one University adopt a policy and similar policies pop up on other campuses. This policy does more harm than benefit to students who are facing mental health issues and if this were adopted at Ryerson the impact would be devastating.”

Nyaga said that although the RSU primarily represents Ryerson students, “it is not odd for us to stand in solidarity with students, especially marginalized students.”

Camryn Harlick, Vice-President Equity of the RSU, decried the policy as “shameful,” adding that “this policy is extremely ableist and as a mad identifying student [it] is scary to think that an institution could decide whether or not I am capable of staying in classes.”

Mathias Memmel, President of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), said, “What the RSU does and doesn’t do has no bearing on the UTSU’s position. We remain opposed to the policy without the amendments we’ve proposed.”

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