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U of T holds second town hall of the semester for UMLAP review

Participants raise concerns about mental health stigma, obscurity of policy and supports
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ANDREA ZHAO/THE VARSITY
ANDREA ZHAO/THE VARSITY

U of T hosted its second town hall meeting of the term on October 5 for a review of the controversial University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy (UMLAP). Created in 2018, the UMLAP allows the university to put students on mandatory leave without academic penalty if it deems the student to be a danger to themselves or others. Nine students have been placed on leave since the policy’s inception.

The series of four town halls aimed to engage key stakeholders such as students, staff, and faculty in the review process. Two town halls were held in winter 2021, and two were scheduled for this term. During the October 5 town hall, participants discussed their concerns about the policy, and suggested ways in which it could potentially be improved. The event was led by Donald Ainslie, a U of T philosophy professor, and Varsha Patel, the assistant dean of student success at UTSC.

Stigma created by policy

Participants commented that the UMLAP reinforces the stigma around mental health at the university, with some students fearing that if they reach out for help, they won’t be able to attend school after being placed on leave. 

“[Reaching out] could perhaps trigger this policy, and that’s something that students are afraid of,” one participant said. They continued that, as a result, students may not be getting help when they need it — this is the “unintended consequence of the policy.” 

Ainslie said that the university takes some steps focused on the student before this policy is enacted. “The idea is to give students support so that they can achieve their academic goals, whether that’s by remaining in class with more accommodations or potentially taking a voluntary leave,” Ainslie explained. He added that the UMLAP is a last resort and handled on a case-by-case basis.

Obscure implementation

During the meeting, Ainslie noted that students had previously raised concerns about a lack of clarity on when the policy could be enacted. He said that the university is working to change the language of official documentation so community members can better understand when it might affect students. 

Moreover, community members argued that there was not enough mental health support for students in place prior to the policy’s implementation, and that the policy is unnecessarily harsh. Ainslie defended the policy, saying that it was developed on a foundation of clarity, transparency, and compassion which limits its application. 

He added that the university also understands that “there need to be all sorts of support for mental health before it reaches the point where this policy is relevant.”

The policy is up for review for the first time three years after its inception, and Ainslie has been appointed as lead. The review includes assessments of the policy’s intended purpose, consideration of its unintended outcomes, and of the extent to which it is understood by the university community. 

The review team will create summaries of the concerns they heard at the meetings, which they will then use to recommend directions in which the policy should go in the future. They will provide more concrete recommendations to the university starting in January 2022.