Following months of campus-wide discussion of the University’s mental health resources, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway has charged a committee with examining Yale’s withdrawal and readmission policies.
The six-person committee, created last month, will delve into Yale’s existing policies and suggest improvements, Holloway said. Currently, the University requires that students apply for voluntary leave of absence within the first 10 days of the semester. After the deadline, students can withdraw from the University but then must re-apply to gain admission.
The committee will take into account several sources of information, including a six-page report authored by the Yale College Council last spring that outlined recommendations for improved withdrawal and leave of absence policies. Committee members will also compare the University’s practices with those of other institutions to see whether Yale should adopt any successful methods, Holloway added.
“[The committee’s mission is to] look at current policies and to look at peers’ policies,” Holloway said. “Are we in line with what we state we’re doing?”
The idea of reevaluating Yale’s withdrawal policies was proposed to then-Yale College Dean Mary Miller last year. However, Holloway said, by that point it was too late in Miller’s term to begin a process that she would not have been able to finish.
The YCC report, which was part of a larger student effort to focus attention on mental illness, highlighted the need to make students who had not withdrawn for disciplinary reasons feel that they were not being unduly punished, YCC president Michael Herbert ’16 said. A number of the current withdrawal policies make leaving campus feel like a punishment, even in instances where it was a voluntary choice, the report said. For example, the YCC report states that some students who withdraw for personal or medical reasons are considered not to be in good academic standing, which means they cannot access University fellowship or career counseling resources.
“Students who are not facing disciplinary action should not feel like they are being punished,” Herbert said. “You would expect that if someone withdraws and they’re not able to be readmitted, they’re going to be a little salty about it, but there are people who are readmitted who are also salty about it, and I think that is indicative of a problem.”
Other recommendations included extending the deadline by which students must apply for a leave of absence — currently 10 days into the semester — to midterm, clarifying terminology so that it is clear if a student left for non-disciplinary reasons, and mandating that notices of readmission be sent at least one month in advance of the start of the semester.
Alexa Little ’16, who withdrew for one semester for medical reasons, said she was notified of her readmission one week before residences opened.
“It’s just a really unnecessarily anxious and complicated and financially difficult process,” she said.
The YCC report has been widely distributed to administrators at Yale Health, YCC University services director Madeline Bauer ’17 said.
Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Pamela George, who oversees Yale College’s Readmission Committee, did not return repeated requests for comment. Lorraine Siggins, chief of Mental Health and Counseling, also could not be reached for comment.
Sara Samuel ’15, the sole undergraduate on the committee, said students can reach out to her to share their opinions on the matter. Rogers said the committee has just begun its work, and it is too early to comment on its progress.
Herbert said that while withdrawing from Yale and suffering from mental health issues are not the same thing, the two often go hand-in-hand.
Ansh Bhagat ’18 said he believes the deadline for taking a voluntary leave of absence should depend on the student’s reason for leaving. However, he is strongly in favor of implementing more individualized readmission requirements.
Despite increased attention to the topic, however, of six students interviewed, five said they are not familiar with Yale’s current withdrawal and readmission policies. They agreed that despite recent attempts to further destigmatize mental illness, there is still work to be done.
“We know where to turn, we know who to go to, but I haven’t seen people actually take the step of doing that,” Sarah Kim ’17 said.
Holloway added that he expects the committee to give him its report soon after March break, leaving time for him and other administrators to consider their recommendations and implement any necessary changes during the summer.
But Little said that while it is good news that the administration is paying more attention to withdrawal and readmission policies, it is “too little, too late.”
“I appreciate what they’re trying to do, but until some real concrete change happens, I’m not exactly holding my breath,” she said. “It’s well and good to have a meeting about something, but unless you’re going to do an overhaul of the protocol — and do it in a timely manner — there’s no point.”