A recent study on leave of absence policies at Ivy League universities gave Columbia a D grade, criticizing the University’s lack of guidelines surrounding the duration of leaves and the absence of a contact person for students who go on leave.
Released earlier this month by the Ruderman Family Foundation, a disability rights advocacy organized based in Boston, the report examined three main areas of the leave process: initiating a leave of absence, the nature of the leave itself, and the process of returning to school following a leave of absence. Using a three-point grading scale, researchers scored all eight Ivy League schools on 15 indicators measuring institutional support for students with “health disabilities,” including areas such as the language of leave policies and the guarantee of a student’s rights during the leave process.
Columbia received an overall score of 29 out of a maximum 45 points, earning the second highest grade along with Brown University and Princeton University. None of the Ivy League colleges scored higher than 31 out of 45 points, or a D-plus.
A University spokesperson declined to comment on the report’s grade for Columbia.
The study specifically analyzed Columbia’s leave process by examining policies stated online as well as in the University’s Academic Policies Handbook. It pointed to policies surrounding the leave itself as those needing the most improvement, assigning four out of the five criteria the lowest score—one point—and labelling them “problematic.”
While on a leave of absence, a student at Columbia is not assigned a point person to help them navigate the process, given a minimum or maximum duration for the length of their leave, or permitted to visit campus.
The report specifically critiqued these policies, stating that a student may feel increasingly isolated throughout their time away from campus given their inability to visit friends or participate in campus life during their leave. Additionally, the study criticized the University for revoking students’ right to guaranteed housing upon returning to campus after their leave.
However, the report did label a number of Columbia’s efforts as “best practices,” including that the University has transparent leave policies, allows students the ability to initiate a leave of absence, and permits students to stay enrolled while on leave.
The report was released just a few months after Columbia announced new efforts to simplify the readmission process for students returning from medical leave. These changes come as part of the University’s partnership with the Jed Foundation, a mental health advocacy organization specifically dedicated to teens and young adults. However, the University working group that spearheaded the initiative is one of four groups, out of 14 total, to not include student members, instead consisting of only six administrators.
Miriam Heyman, senior program officer at the foundation and author of the paper, wrote that all eight Ivy League schools should improve mental health policies that the researchers concluded to be failing and discriminatory in light of the current “mental health crisis” on college campuses. Heyman also added that the schools’ policies fail to live up to the elite standards of Ivy League institutions.
“The grades noted above convey that the Ivy League schools still have a lot of work to do in order to meet these ideals. Only then will they live up to their reputation of leadership,” Heyman wrote.