Recently, Yale’s policies on mental health, specifically forced medical withdrawal, have been thrust into the spotlight. Rachel Williams ’17 bravely published an account in the News of how she was forced to leave campus against her wishes due to her mental health (“We Just Can’t Have You Here,” Jan. 24). But another aspect of Yale’s regulations on students taking time off needs to be evaluated – the cases where strict policies pressure students into staying on campus when it may make more sense for them to leave.
According to the Yale College Programs of Study, students in good academic standing can choose to take a leave of absence up until the tenth day of the term, with a guaranteed spot in the University upon returning the following semester. After the tenth day, however, students are no longer allowed to take a single semester leave of absence. Instead, if the decision is personal or academic, they are forced to withdraw for two consecutive semesters. Only if the withdrawal is requested for explicitly medical purposes, as determined by the director of Yale Health or Mental Health, can the student be granted a one-semester withdrawal. Because the University must clear withdrawals for mental health purposes, some mental health cases may get recorded as “personal” instead of “medical.” This is especially likely if the student’s mental health problems are self-diagnosed or even entirely undiagnosed. After withdrawing, students are asked to go through a readmission process that involves taking two courses, writing essays and undergoing multiple interviews.
These strict regulations on withdrawal, although likely well-intentioned, may prevent students from taking time off when it is in their best interest to do so. Taking an entire year off can be much more daunting than a single semester and being asked to go through an extensive readmission process can also be a deterrent to withdrawing.
In 1999, the Yale Herald reported on the case of a student who chose not to withdraw from Yale while her father was dying because regulations would have required her to take a full-year leave. The student was not given any sort of individual consideration outside of the standard policy on withdrawal for personal reasons. Luckily, she lived close enough to campus that she was able to commute frequently between home and school. Her solution would not have worked for a student who lived across the country. She explained her thoughts on Yale’s withdrawal policy to the Herald, saying, “I would not have missed the last few weeks of my father’s life for anything. However, why should I be penalized for making that judgment?”
Yale’s readmission policy has likewise been criticized. Students who went through the process have told the News that the readmmission policy is neither transparent nor responsive to students’ needs (“Going into withdrawals,” Sep. 11, 2009). Complaints cited in the article included the financial burden of paying for the two outside courses required for readmission, unsatisfactory reasons for rejection and the timing of notice on the application. One student interviewed was notified in late December that he had not been readmitted for the spring term, at which point he had already signed the lease for his off-campus apartment.
Of course, Yale’s policies on withdrawal and readmission are not entirely illogical. The University does not want students to leave on a whim or to use withdrawal as a way to avoid a bad transcript. Still, blanket policies like the ones that currently exist do not take into account individual circumstances. Given that the number of withdrawals is so low, it seems reasonable to ask that students’ needs in a withdrawal be evaluated on a case-by-case basis within a set of more lenient guidelines.
Harvard College seems to have a much better set of policies. A leave of absence can be granted up through the seventh Monday of the semester, as opposed to Yale’s ten-day window. Students who petition for a leave after the seventh Monday but before Thanksgiving or April 15 are allowed to return the following semester and are asked to go through a much simpler readmission process. Harvard regulations state that students who petition after Thanksgiving or April 15 ordinarily will not be allowed to register for the next term, but there is room for individual consideration.
Yale should consider modifying its policies on withdrawal and readmission to look more like the ones at Harvard. By changing regulations so students are not forced to leave campus for an entire year and go through an extensive readmission process as the result of withdrawing after the tenth day of the semester, the University will allow students to make healthier, simpler decisions to take time off from Yale.
Diana Rosen is a sophomore in Pierson College. Her columns run on Mondays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .