Students are angry about the University’s policies governing when and how they can take time off from Yale — and the process that decides whether they are readmitted.
People have a right to be angry. For every story we hear about the process working seamlessly, about a student happily back at Yale, there’s another story of undue stress. A story of confusion and ambiguity, of being left to wonder. Of a feeling that the University is tacking on an extra punishment to the pain of mental illness.
We don’t expect the University to wave a magic wand and make it easy for students suffering from mental illness to leave and come back; it’s an arduous undertaking, personally and socially. But we think there are policy changes the University can institute that will make coping with a mental illness just a little bit easier.
The guiding ethic of our recommendations is that Yale students remain Yale students, with all the privileges this status confers, even when they are facing a debilitating illness.
Under current policy, students have until the 10th day of the semester to request a leave of absence of one or two semesters, after which they can easily return to campus. But beginning on day 11, students wishing to take time off are forced to withdraw and apply for readmission. The difference in these processes is like night and day.
Students who withdraw for medical reasons, as determined by Yale Health or Mental Health & Counseling, are required to leave campus for at least a full semester, not including the semester of the withdrawal. Students who withdraw for personal reasons — which could include undiagnosed mental illness — are required to leave for two full semesters, not including the semester of the withdrawal. If a student were to withdraw for personal reasons today, she would not be permitted to return to campus until the fall of 2016.
Students have protested that the current 10-day deadline for leaves of absence is too severe. The decision to leave campus for one semester is difficult. Withdrawal requires leaving for two, or even three, semesters. Students may attempt to remain enrolled, against their best interests, to avoid being forced to leave for such a long period of time, and with such onerous requirements for coming back.
One need not look far to find a more sympathetic policy. At Harvard, students can request a leave of absence until the seventh Monday of the semester. The Yale College Council recommended last year that Yale adopt a similar policy, moving the deadline for leaves of absence to midterm, which falls on the eighth Friday of the semester.
At midterm, students reserve the right to drop a course without receiving a W on their transcripts. It stands to reason that the University should allow students to take a leave of absence until this date as well.
Yale’s procedures for readmitting students similarly have room for improvement.
Readmission is usually contingent on the completion of two college courses, and students who withdraw due to mental illness may be required to complete counseling. We think these requirements make sense, as they are necessary to prepare students for re-entry. At the same time, the requirements can be expensive, stacking a stressful financial burden on top of the burden of getting better.
A student who opted to take classes at the University of Pittsburgh during her time away from Yale received conflicting messages from the financial aid offices at the two schools: Yale said Pitt would pick up the tab, but Pitt said Yale would cover her costs. Yale College administrators should assess students’ financial positions on a case-by-case basis, and then do everything possible to ensure money is not a barrier to recovery.
What’s more, the semester a student withdraws should not count toward the eight semesters of financial aid to which they are entitled. As policies stand, students who apply for a ninth term are normally not eligible for additional aid.
And further, during the first term back from a withdrawal, students receive less gift assistance than usual. This should not be the case.
A timing problem exists as well. Students sometimes learn of their readmission mere days or weeks before the start of the semester. Making last-minute travel plans back to campus can be expensive; arranging off-campus housing can be impossible. In the days before their first semester back, students should be focused on completing their course schedules and reconnecting with friends. They shouldn’t be wondering if they’ll get to come back in the first place.
Late news of rejection can be an even greater burden. In 2009, a student on leave for clinical depression received notification of his rejection after signing a lease on a New Haven apartment. Bound to his lease, he was forced to live in New Haven for the semester, waiting to apply again for readmission.
While we understand the rationale behind evaluating students for readmission near the end of their withdrawal, the University should seek to notify students of their acceptance or rejection as early as possible.
For more than 15 years, students have criticized the strict withdrawal timeline and burdensome readmission process. Last spring, the YCC published an exhaustive list of recommendations on how to change these policies.
Yet the administration has failed to act. Until now — maybe. Last month, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway charged a committee with re-evaluating withdrawal and readmission policy. We urge the committee to make the changes we have outlined.