Months of debate last semester surrounding Yale’s mental health policies revolved around the process and challenges of admitting withdrawn students back to school. Less attention, though, focused on what happens when those students actually return, and how they might reintegrate into the high-pressure environment that may have driven them to leave in the first place.
The exceptional case of one student who was reinstated this semester, after withdrawing in fall 2014 for medical reasons, illustrates the ways in which Yale’s academic credit structure can increase stress upon students who have just spent an extended amount of time away from the University. At the time that he withdrew as a first-semester sophomore, the student thought he had completed 11.5 credits: four-and-a-half during his first semester, five during his second and two during a summer program. The student — who asked to remain anonymous because he is still appealing his case with the Committee on Honors and Academic Standing — had intentionally taken a heavy course load earlier on in his Yale career, he said, because he wanted to be able to focus on his upper-level classes in later years.
In April, when he requested reinstatement materials from the Yale College Dean’s Office, he received a letter from Pamela George, assistant dean of academic affairs and reinstatement committee chair, confirming that he had completed 11.5 credits and would thus be granted six additional semesters to complete the 24.5 remaining credits, for a total of nine semesters at Yale. He could take four classes every semester, with the exception of one — a relatively painless way to ease back into life at Yale and the challenges of his major.
“There weren’t any disclaimers to that [letter], it obviously doesn’t seem very ambiguous,” he said. “Everything that I understood from that letter also reflected what I’d understood from my dean and everybody else at the time of my leaving.”
According to George, reinstated students are granted a certain number of semesters based on the amount of time they would need to complete the 36-credit requirement for graduation — usually eight and sometimes even nine semesters total, which most reinstated students interviewed said is plenty. But in August, when George notified the anonymous student of his successful reinstatement, she also wrote that he had actually completed 12 credits before he withdrew and would thus only be granted five additional semesters. That would mean four semesters of five classes, with only one semester of four — a significantly heavier course load.
The discrepancy was the result of a clerical error. The YCDO had missed a half credit because the student had withdrawn very close to the end of the fall semester — so close, in fact, that he had actually taken, and passed, a final for his lab credit. He received half a credit for that final — and that semester would now count as one of his eight total — even though he did not take the rest of his exams and did not finish out the term. With 12 credits, he had passed a credit threshold and could be promoted to a second-semester sophomore.
While the student considers this to mean he only receives seven semesters at Yale, since he never actually finished that sophomore fall semester, the University contends the five additional semesters would bring his total to eight.
Either way, the student says the reduced number of terms increases academic pressures during his upcoming semesters.
“I didn’t want to take a maximum course load right off the bat,” he said. “I wanted to make sure everything is good and get back into things.”
The student’s case was exacerbated by the reinstatement requirement that withdrawn students complete two course credits at a four-year university as evidence that they are ready to return to school. These credits can also count as Yale credit, which is intended to mitigate the effect of semesters lost to withdrawal.
But the student had secured permission from George to fulfill his two-course requirement at a community college for financial reasons. While George’s approval allowed him to fulfill the reinstatement requirements, the summer community college credits still could not count towards his diploma because of the University regulation. Ironically, this show of administrative flexibility actually set him further back, preventing summer courses from easing his credit burden.
“I had to do it for financial reasons. It wasn’t really a decision,” the student said. “But [had I known], it would’ve changed my decision to take that [lab] final.”
His case is certainly abnormal and may even be unique. Other recently reinstated students had far fewer credits when they withdrew and thus encountered no problems securing a ninth semester. Ilan Belkind-Gerson ’19, who withdrew after suffering a concussion, said that as far as he understands, “nine semesters is perfectly normal.”
The anonymous student also emphasized that the problem is not with individual administrators — who he said have been accommodating — but rather with the inflexible policy. He said his situation illustrates the need for clear communication during a process already fraught with misunderstandings, emotions and uncertainty. In addition to readjusting to life at Yale, he is in the midst of an appeals process to secure an extra semester.
“I think it’s added a lot of extra stress that doesn’t necessarily need to be there,” he said. “I think it’s going to turn out fine, but I think that the most important thing is just to be more explicit about [the credits] policy and communicate it better.”