The University Affairs Board (UAB) voted near unanimously on May 24 to recommend the contentious university-mandated leave of absence policy to Governing Council, U of T’s highest decision-making body. The policy needs to go through two more rounds of recommendation votes before it is sent to Governing Council for final approval; if passed, it would be implemented effective immediately.
Only three board members, namely student members Zhenglin Liu, Julian Oliveira, and Amanda Harvey-Sanchez, opposed the policy. One person abstained from the vote, and the remaining UAB members voted in the affirmative.
U of T’s current version of the mandated leave policy, which is part of the Code of Student Conduct, puts students on a punitive leave from school. The revised policy in question proposes putting students on a non-punitive leave.
During the meeting, U of T Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr spoke in support of the policy. She sought to ease student concerns by giving assurance that the policy would only apply to students exhibiting dangerous behaviour to themselves or others. Regehr also mentioned that student feedback from the numerous consultation processes helped to improve the policy.
Various student groups spoke out against the policy at the meeting, including the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU). Joshua Grondin, the union’s Vice-President University Affairs, recommended a revised policy that would guarantee that students could get the resources they needed and allow others to help them with their mental illnesses. He also spoke about his own personal experiences, claiming that the resources for mental health at U of T helped him get his academic life in order.
In an interview with The Varsity, Grondin said that the UTSU “definitely [wants] to work with the other [student] groups and see what their approach is” as the university goes forward with this policy.
“Ideally we can find something collaborative to let [the university] know that students still want changes and we want to consult more,” Grondin said. “We’ll also try to meet with members of the administration and let them know what the underlying concerns are.”
Other speakers brought up different concerns with the policy, including the intersections of race and mental health, the issues that international students may face, the limited consultations for revising the policy, and the future housing and employment implications for students.
During the discussion among board members, Liu presented a letter addressed to Regehr by Julie S. Wood, a woman who believes she lost her son because of U of T’s unwillingness to help struggling students. Her son, John David Wood, was heavily involved in Hart House Theatre. However, Wood stated that after being hospitalized for a “psychotic break” and suicide attempt, as well as for withdrawal symptoms from misprescribed medication, the theatre manager told her son not to return.
“This policy will stigmatize, isolate and damage vulnerable students. On the plus side it will reduce U. of T.’s burden of responsibility,” Wood wrote. “Making this policy official really won’t change anything, it will simply institutionalize the long-standing practice of shunning and excluding people who are experiencing difficulties that university personnel do not understand and don’t want to deal with.”
In an interview with The Varsity, anti-policy organizer Aidan Swirsky said that he was “not surprised” that the policy passed. “The only way this policy can be challenged by students is [by] trying to force as much of their hand as possible.”
Read Wood’s full letter here:
Editor’s Note (May 31): This article has been updated to clarify that the current version of the mandated leave of absence policy is a part of the Code of Student Conduct.