Updated: 4:38 p.m.
After months of controversy, Yale College has committed to comprehensive reforms of its withdrawal and readmission policies — some of which will go into effect immediately.
In an email Tuesday afternoon, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway shared the report of a committee he appointed last fall, which he had tasked with reevaluating Yale’s procedures surrounding taking time off from, and returning to, Yale. The committee, which was composed of six members, including one undergraduate student, met 11 times from December to April and worked amidst heated campus discussion of the University’s treatment of mental health issues.
“The committee’s recommendations are comprehensive: they introduce terminology, adjust timetables, ease financial burdens, enhance communications, take advantage of current technology, and more,” Holloway wrote in the email. “Taken together, the recommendations greatly improve the policies on withdrawing from and returning to Yale College.”
Holloway noted in his email that the reforms also build on suggestions from the Yale College Council, which released a 2014 report on leave of absence and withdrawal, as well as from students who have been through the withdrawal and readmission processes and the general student body.
Holloway told the News that his office will keep a close watch on how the policies are received and implemented, adding that while there are not yet specific plans for a follow-up evaluation, he is sure that there will be one.
“We truly want to make sure that we do this properly,” he said.
The reforms range from terminology to finances to timelines. Among the changes — which Holloway committed to instituting by spring 2016 — are a replacement of the term “readmission” with “reinstatement,” extension of the time within which a student may petition for leave of absence instead of withdrawal, and increased personalization in the reinstatement process.
Holloway noted in his email that he is working to implement some recommendations that will provide immediate relief for students applying for reinstatement this fall — specifically, financial recommendations. The renamed “committee on reinstatement” will communicate with these students now so that they can immediately benefit from these changes.
However, the first contingent of students to see the complete effects of the new process will be those applying for reinstatement in the spring 2016 semester. There was no practical way to institute all new policies — the new timeline or revised communication strategies, for example — evenly or across the board in such a short period, Holloway said, so it made more sense to implement the new process entirely for students who will apply for reinstatement in November.
According to the report, the change in terminology from “readmission” to “reinstatement” aims to eliminate student concerns that “withdrawal brings with it a nullification of the student’s initial acceptance by Yale’s Office of Admissions.” While the distinction between “leave of absence” and “withdrawal” will remain intact, the report recommended that students be allowed to petition for leaves of absence any time before the last day of the course selection period — an extension of five days in the fall semester and six in the spring.
The current policy, which changes leave of absence to withdrawal 10 days after the start of the term, does not give students adequate time to consider taking time off without losing the “significant” and “undeniable” advantages of leave of absence, the report said.
With regards to the financial burden of withdrawal — which often entails a loss of tuition, travel costs and fees at other universities to satisfy readmission requirements — the report proposed increased flexibility from the administration. While the requirement for withdrawn students to forfeit financial aid cannot be changed, as it is dictated by certain federal regulations, the report recommended that Yale more clearly publicize its “Yale Tuition Insurance.” For $350 a year, the insurance protects up to a 90 percent reimbursement of tuition, room and board in the case of medical withdrawal.
In addition, the report said, the University should make clear that students on financial aid can receive similar assistance if they enroll in Yale Summer Session classes to fulfill their readmission requirement of two credits before they return. For students who enroll in credits outside of Yale, such need-based scholarship is not possible. Instead, the report proposed relieving those students of their Student Income Contribution — a cost of up to $3,050. It also proposed forgiveness of a “ninth-term penalty,” an additional $3,050 cost which is currently assessed of students who require extra time to complete their degrees.
Yale College Council Michael Herbert ’16 said that although legal requirements constrain how much the University can reform in the financial arena, he was pleased to see that the University looked for change in the areas it does control, such as the SIC.
Some students also incur costs during the process of applying for readmission, as they are currently required to travel to New Haven for a series of in-person interviews with the readmission committee. Although the report’s authors maintained that in-person interviews are preferable, they acknowledged that interviews should be allowed via video teleconference when necessary.
The report also emphasized the need for clearer communication, explaining that many students who are considering taking time off from Yale are unfamiliar with the leave policy’s strict deadline. To ameliorate this problem, the committee suggested increasing student awareness of the leave of absence window at the beginning of each term, as well as the logistical and financial advantages of a leave of absence as opposed to a withdrawal.
Specifically, the report suggested clarifying the language of the policies currently described in the Blue Book and creating a Yale College website that clearly details policies and directs students and their families to the appropriate resources.
Among the details that the website would clarify are deadlines for a withdrawn student to leave campus — 72 hours — and the loss of resources that come with withdrawing, such as access to library resources, Yale email addresses and identification cards.
The committee also recommended four practices that will integrate the processes of withdrawal and reinstatement.
“One striking fact we gleaned from the survey of recently reinstated students involved the uncertainty and confusion that some withdrawn students feel about the status of their withdrawal and the upcoming process of reinstatement,” the report reads. “Because the process of withdrawal is largely administered at the level of the residential college while the process of reinstatement is overseen by Yale College, some students experience a disconnect between two practices that many students, understandably, feel should be experienced as related components of a single process.”
To combat this problem, the report proposed automatically informing the chair of the Reinstatement Committee — currently Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs Pamela George — of all withdrawals from Yale College and allowing the chair to initiate contact with the student earlier in his or her withdrawal. In the past, withdrawn students have complained of minimal communication efforts from the chair, including some students who said they were never contacted at all before reapplying.
In a March interview with the News, George acknowledged the need for more coordination between the withdrawal and readmission processes.
“Because I’m not involved with withdrawn students, I don’t know who they are and what those issues are,” she said.
The report also recommended encouraging increased communication between both the chair of the Reinstatement Committee and students with residential college deans.
“The sense of alienation experienced by some withdrawn students, noted above, could be diminished if students were sent a clear, unequivocal message that they are entitled to maintain a relationship with the dean during the period of withdrawal,” it said.
Residential college deans will also no longer have a vote when the reinstatement committee discusses a student’s application. This change, the report said, will help maintain the dean’s advisory role throughout the process.
Finally, the report recommended reforms to the newly labeled reinstatement process itself. First, it recommended a series of changes to application deadlines. Currently, there are two deadlines in the readmission process: one deadline to request readmission materials and a second deadline to submit them. The report recommended eliminating the first deadline and simply making materials available online at all times.
But the report also suggested shifting the entire schedule of the readmission process, so that students applying for fall-term reinstatement must submit all materials by July 1, and students applying for spring-term reinstatement by Nov. 1. The current deadline for fall reinstatement is June 1.
Readmission interviews, which students have previously complained are difficult to schedule and occur near the end of term, will be required to take place in July and November, respectively.
“This significant change in the timing of the application process has many advantages,” the report said. “It promises to reduce much of the student and family anxiety currently surrounding a process that is not fully concluded, in the present system, until just before the beginning of the term.”
The $50 fee for applying for readmission will also be eliminated.
When asked if the reforms will help put Yale in line with its peer institutions, English professor John Rogers, who chaired the committee that wrote the report, said he would “like to think that these changes set a new standard.”
According to Harvard’s policies regarding taking time off, most students who petition for a leave of absence prior to the seventh Monday of the term do not need to petition for permission to re-register, as compared to Yale’s new cutoff at the end of course registration period. Still, a student must decide to leave Harvard on or before June 1 in order to receive full reimbursement of tuition, room and board, compared to the new 15-day grace period for Yale students to receive full reimbursement.
“Yale’s new policy, which extends the rebate of tuition up until the 15th calendar day of the semester, is considerably more generous [than Harvard’s],” Rogers said.
Many expressed optimism about the changes. Holloway said the committee’s work was impressive, adding that he hopes students will see the changes as positive and substantial.
Overall, Herbert said, the report made a serious effort at addressing the concerns raised not only in the YCC’s 2014 report but also by students more broadly.
“There are legal constraints and other kinds of constraints that aren’t necessarily always accounted for in the YCC report,” he said. “But the spirit of it, which was to say ‘This is a process that students hate and needs to be changed’ — we were successful there, and I think that’s the much more important thing. I don’t think it’s just window dressing. I think there are very significant changes that have been made that will be positive.”