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Barnhart, Stuopis establish medical leave and hospitalization policy review committee

Co-chairs Saxe and Schulz see “true openness to change,” invite community to lend their voices to the review process.
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Responding to one of the key recommendations from last spring’s Committee on Academic Performance’s (CAP) report on undergraduate withdrawal and readmissions practices, Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart and Medical Director Cecilia Stuopis have established a committee to review MIT’s medical leave and hospitalization practices and policies for undergraduate and graduate students. This action is one in a series of recent steps the administration has taken to implement the CAP’s recommendations to strengthen the leave and return system for students.

In the charge to the committee, Barnhart and Stuopis wrote, “While MIT has policies and procedures for involuntary medical leave for both undergraduate and graduate students, they are intended to be used only as a last resort. The CAP learned, however, that the specter of an involuntary medical leave creates anxiety in many students.”

Calling this a “clear and pressing issue for the community at large,” Barnhart and Stuopis have tapped Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences professors Rebecca Saxe and Laura Schulz to co-chair the committee of faculty, students, and staff. The committee will consider whether current policies adequately express the approach MIT should follow for students who present a danger to themselves, to the community, or who otherwise are not able to participate in campus life due to mental or physical health issues; whether the implementation of the current policies are adequate and clear; and, if necessary, the committee will make recommendations for improvements.

Barnhart and Stuopis’ charge also requests that the committee consider what practices the Institute should implement to “minimize uncertainty, fear, and distrust” surrounding the hospitalization process and “what procedures are in place, or should be in place, to ensure that students who are hospitalized are supported by MIT.”

The committee’s report is expected in the upcoming spring semester. The full membership list is available here.

“When we were approached about chairing this committee, we were obviously interested because this is such an important topic,” Saxe and Schulz said. “However, we did not accept until we had spoken with a number of administrators around MIT to ensure that there was a true openness to change. What we heard was that people wanted an honest assessment of MIT’s hospitalization and medical leave policies, and that there was political will to revise our practices. We are excited to have such a great committee, and welcome everyone's input into how to tackle this hard problem.”

Saxe and Schulz convened the committee for the first time last week, and have a series of fall meetings scheduled. Additionally, they will be holding two community conversations — one for undergraduates, the other for graduate students — in order for students to share their insights on the current policies.

Undergraduates are invited to join committee members Tamar Weseley, Taylor Sutton — both MIT seniors — and Saxe on Monday, Oct. 3 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 4-370.

Graduate students are encouraged to join graduate student committee members Joy Louveau and Kyle Kotowick and Professor Tamar Schapiro on Tuesday, Oct. 4 from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in Room 4-370.

Saxe and Schulz have also set up two other platforms for community feedback to inform the committee’s final report: a survey open to all MIT community members who have thoughts to add, and especially those who have had experience with current medical leave and hospitalization practices. The survey will be open through Oct. 31. The committee will also be accepting public comments via throughout the fall semester.

Barnhart and Stuopis’ work to set up this new committee represents just one of the action steps the Institute has taken in recent months to respond to the CAP report’s recommendations. The following progress has been made:

  • A new flexible "leave of absence" category with fewer administrative requirements has been established so that students can depart for a variety of educational, professional, or wellness reasons. Thirty-four students have requested this new type of leave for the current semester.
  • Terminology changes from “withdrawal and readmission” to “leave and return” are complete and leave letters from Student Support Services (S3) are now more supportive in tone and include a concrete action plan, a list of key supportive contacts, and clear expectations for what is required in order for students to return from a leave. Expectations for coursework while on leave are only set by S3 after consultation with the CAP.
  • CAP is now the sole decision-maker for return requests, ensuring that S3 can fulfill its core mission of providing support, advice, and guidance to students. And, in an early indication that the CAP is adhering to a key report principle that MIT should help all students who wish to return from a leave and earn a degree to do so, a record high percentage (98 percent) of return requests were granted during the most recent review process.
  • All students who returned to MIT from a leave this fall and requested on-campus housing were given offers for on-campus room assignments.

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