Students for Barrier-free Access and the undersigned faculty, students and student organizations write to express our opposition to the proposed implementation of the University-Mandated Leave of Absence Policy. While the 2015-2016 Report of the University of Toronto Ombudsperson highlighted the dire need to increase supports for students with mental health disabilities or facing mental health struggles, the University has taken few if any steps in increasing these supports. Rather than meeting this need, the Office of the Vice-President and Provost has introduced a policy that will, in effect, force students to leave the confines of the University, including their friends, housing, and co-curricular activities, to seek medical support outside of their community. In addition, students wishing to return to the University, after seeking medical support, will be required to undergo a petition process that forces disclosure and depends on the student providing private medical documentation to the Vice-Provost Students. In requiring that students undergo this process, and further assessment at the discretion of the Vice-Provost Students, the University not only actively discriminates against an identifiable group, but fails to preserve the dignity of its students.
There is a significant risk that this policy will deter students from disclosing a mental health concern and from seeking support or treatment - either offered by the university or a community space, for fear of reprisal. This policy will also place faculty in the difficult position of wanting to support students in distress, but fearing reprisal for recommending students to disclose their need for mental health supports to the University.
Further the policy will disproportionate harm international students who are here on study permits; low-income students relying on Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) and the Bursary for Students with Disabilities/ Canada Student Grant for Services and Equipment for Persons with Permanent Disabilities (BSWD/CSG-PDSE) and who need to maintain continuous registration as a condition of their funding; black, indigenous, racialized, queer and trans students already marginalized by the post-secondary education system; and graduate students who are often also employed by the University.
The undersigned urge the University to address our concerns by meeting the following demands:
1. The Office of the Vice-President and Provost immediately revoke the proposed policy.2. The Office of the Vice-President and Provost and the Vice-Provost Students engage in a broad and in-depth consultation with students, with the wider disabled and psychiatrized community, and with the human rights community.3. The University of Toronto increase mental health supports available to students on campus.4. The University of Toronto hire additional counsellors and traditional healers to meet student needs and to cut down on wait times.5. The University of Toronto immediately increase funding for Accessibility Services.6. The University of Toronto hire additional disability advisors so as to decrease the ratio of students per disability advisors.