The following email was sent today to the MIT community by Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart.
To the members of the MIT community,
Today we write to share the news about our plans to enhance MIT’s medical leave and hospitalization policies and procedures for undergraduate and graduate students. Thanks to the thoughtful work of the Committee on Medical Leave and Hospitalizations (CMLH), we have identified a path to achieve our shared goals:
- Strengthen students’ trust in and reduce fear about MIT’s support systems;
- Empower students who need help to actively seek and receive it; and
- Ensure that our policies and procedures – both on paper and in practice – are transparent and compassionate, and, wherever possible, support a return to campus.
Last year’s Committee on Academic Performance review of undergraduate leave and return practices discovered that, while less than one percent of MIT students are hospitalized or take leave for mental health reasons every year, these issues create anxiety in many students and can become a barrier to their seeking care. This finding troubled us and demanded a further examination. That’s why we formed the CMLH and charged this group of faculty, students, and staff with assessing our current practices and policies and making recommendations for change.
After engaging with community members – including many students who returned to MIT from medical leaves or hospitalizations – and examining how several of our peer institutions approach these complex issues, CMLH has produced a report with a clear vision and specific instructions for improvement. Examples of some of the committee’s most significant recommendations include:
- Create a clear and transparent student resource, such as a handbook, to effectively communicate the hospitalization process for mental health treatment;
- Ensure that students in crisis receive coordinated, compassionate, and ongoing support during wellness checks, evaluations, hospital transports and stays, and throughout their time away from MIT;
- Reaffirm that all admitted students, including hospitalized students or students on leave, are part of our community;
- Develop a new medical leave and return policy that eliminates the current form of involuntary medical leave, replacing it with new procedures that clearly state the conditions under which a medical leave can be mandated; and
- To promote continuous evaluation and improvement, all students who return from medical leave or hospitalization should be given an opportunity to complete an anonymous survey about their experience. MIT should also assess the new medical leave and return policy within two years to confirm its effectiveness, and report its findings to the community at large.
Next steps and gratitude
We are pleased to report that our new leaders in the Division of Student Life (DSL) and Mental Health and Counseling Service (MH&C) are already addressing several of the issues the report raises. Last semester, Vice President and Dean for Student Life Suzy Nelson and Dean David Randall created a new Coordination Assistance Response (CARE) Team, dedicating three full-time staff members to overseeing wellness checks, following up on Dean on Call incidents, and providing direct, personalized support for hospitalized students. Associate Medical Director and Chief of MH&C Dr. Karen Singleton, who arrived at MIT over IAP, is leading MIT Medical’s response to the committee’s request for more robust communication with students. The handbook resource will be developed in coordination with students and ready for release in the upcoming academic year. And a new medical leave and return policy is being drafted.
We are very grateful to CMLH’s co-chairs, Professors Rebecca Saxe and Laura Schulz, and the entire committee (members listed below) for the dedication, empathy, and problem-solving they displayed throughout the review process. They embraced the complexity of their charge and fully appreciated the impact of their work on students. We are thankful to them, and to the members of our community – particularly our students with first-hand experience with the leave and hospitalization process – for lending us their valuable time and their powerful insights.
There is more work for us to do, and we realize that accomplishing our shared goals for trust, empowerment, transparency, and compassion will take time and resolve. But we are confident we are on the right path thanks to this committee and to our community.
Cecilia Warpinski Stuopis MD, MS, FACOG
Medical Director, MIT Medical
Committee on Medical Leave and Hospitalization Policies and Procedures
Prof. Rebecca Saxe, Co-Chair
Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Prof. Laura Schulz, Co-Chair
Brain and Cognitive Sciences
Prof. David Andrew Singer
Prof. Tamar Schapiro
Linguistics and Philosophy
Dr. Mia Gore
MIT Medical (Mental Health and Counseling)
Jaren Wilcoxson, Esq.
Office of the General Counsel
Dr. Kathleen Monagle
Student Disability Services
Mr. Jason McKnight
Office of the Dean for Graduate Education
Dr. David Randall
Office of the Vice President and Dean for Student Life
Ms. Tamar Weseley, Student ‘17
Mr. Taylor Sutton, Student ‘17
Mr. Kyle Kotowick, Student G
Ms. Joy Louveau, Student G
Ms. Kimberly Benard, Staff to the Committee
Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education (UAAP)