STEVEN LEE/THE VARSITY

An updated draft of the controversial university-mandated leave of absence policy was released by the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students on April 27. The new draft includes greater detail on accommodations for students placed on leave, as requested by the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC). As part of the release, the university is also soliciting online feedback from members of the U of T community.

In an April 27 memo, Sandy Welsh, Vice-Provost Students, said that the university has been reviewing the proposed policy since the end of January. The memo states that the new draft “amplifies the intent and application of policy and is responsive to concerns raised.” Students have until May 16 to provide feedback via the student consultations website.

If approved by Governing Council, the policy would allow the university to place students on a non-punitive but mandatory leave of absence if their mental health either negatively impacts their studies or poses a dangerous, physical risk to themselves or others.

The proposed policy has attracted significant resistance since its introduction in October 2017. It was initially slated to be voted on by Governing Council at the end of 2017, but was delayed two months after backlash from students and student groups. The proposal also attracted the attention of the OHRC, which sent a letter to Governing Council on January 29 asking the university to delay the policy’s approval. The OHRC stated that the draft fell short of meeting the “duty to accommodate,” which is the responsibility to accommodate students’ mental health issues to the point of undue hardship.

Changes to the updated draft were designed to respond to the OHRC’s concerns. The proposed policy now includes a definition of ‘accommodation,’ which is “one or more accommodative measures (e.g. academic accommodations such as extra time to write an exam, physical accommodations to assist in the learning environment, etc.) provided pursuant to the Ontario Human Rights Code’s duty to accommodate up to the point of undue hardship.”

The updated policy also includes clauses describing how a student can participate in the process of determining accommodations, provisions for meeting with campus health resources prior to the policy being invoked, and how to provide accommodative measures once the student is approved to return to their studies.

In addition, the new draft further expounded on the “Threshold for Intervention,” renamed the “Threshold for Invoking the Policy.” A concern of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and other stakeholders was that the definition of a scenario in which a student’s mental health negatively affected their studies was too broad.

The draft now states that “this scenario is not intended to apply to situations where a Student is academically unsuccessful and the normal consequences of failing to meet academic standards should apply, but rather to situations involving serious behavioural problems that may be related to mental health or other similar issues, which result in the Student’s inability to fulfill the essential activities required to pursue their program.”

However, the policy leaves out a chief recommendation from members of the university community — that the process require the presence of a medical professional throughout. In his January 2018 executive report, then-UTSU President Mathias Memmel said that “mental health problems are medical problems, and medical decisions should be made by medical professionals.”

The draft policy is slated to be voted upon at the next University Affairs Board meeting on May 24. If the vote passes, it would be recommended to Governing Council for final approval.

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