Demystifying Leave of Absence
story | Regina Marie Lee, Staff Reporter
photo | Yang Xuerui
Recent events have fixed the spotlight on wellness at Yale-NUS College. Students have raised concerns about wellness support offered by the Dean of Students (DOS) Office, as well as a school culture that prizes busyness.
For those who struggle, taking a Leave of Absence (LOA) from school is an option that is often hidden from the public eye, since those who take it necessarily go away. Those who have gone on leave say it was a good experience, although some have faced problems getting reinstated. LOA procedures were updated in the 2016 Undergraduate Regulations, and the policy is currently being reviewed according to Dean of Students (DOS) Christopher Bridges.
WHY STUDENTS GO ON LOA
Students can be required by the DOS to take a Leave of Absence for well-being and academic reasons. They will then have to meet certain conditions to be reinstated as students. Others can apply voluntarily for up to two semesters of leave, often to take up unique professional opportunities, for a break to prevent burnout, or due to other extenuating circumstances.
Those who go on LOA often rest, work or take classes elsewhere. While on a one-year LOA from school, Liam Holmes ’19 worked as a night radio DJ back home in Adelaide, and studied at the University of Adelaide. “My LOA experience was good, and much needed rest,” said Holmes, who was asked to go on LOA for medical reasons at the end of his first year, in 2015. Timothy Lim ’18 interned at a luxury lifestyle magazine for five months and took Spanish classes at a community college in Hong Kong. He had been asked to go on LOA for academic reasons in 2015.
CHANGE IN POLICY
Both Lim and Holmes went on what were “Required LOAs” according to the 2015 Undergraduate Regulations. Under that policy, LOAs were classified as “Voluntary” or “Required”, where those on Voluntary LOAs would automatically return without needing to apply for reinstatement. After a 2016 update, LOAs are now classified as LOA with conditions to meet for reinstatement, and LOA without conditions. Thus, whether a student on leave needs to go through reinstatement depends not on whether he or she initiated the LOA, but on the decision of the administration.
To be reinstated, Holmes had to show he was ready to return to school and had been engaged in a productive activity while away. He submitted letters from his psychologist, work and school to the reinstatement committee. This committee is chaired by the DOS, and includes the student’s Vice Rector (VR), faculty member, and a health or wellness professional. After the interview, the committee decides if a student can return. Holmes’ first application for reinstatement to return after one semester was unsuccessful. “I was pretty disappointed, but in the long run I felt it was necessary. I would have struggled if I came back after six months,” he said.
Both Holmes and Lim said they had a generally good experience with LOA and reinstatement. Holmes said the decision to deny him reinstatement was explained to him in person, as he returned to Singapore for the interview. Lim said it was a “fair process”. “They made me feel like they wanted me back,” he said.
PROBLEMS WITH REINSTATEMENT
Still, slipups in the process can cause considerable stress for students, who struggle with uncertainty about their return to Yale-NUS. Lora ’17, who declined to be fully named, took an LOA voluntarily for last semester (AY2015/6 spring semester), but was mistakenly asked to go through the reinstatement process to return. Under LOA regulations in 2015, those on voluntary LOAs could automatically return.
She was denied reinstatement in late May, 2016, after submitting letters and doing a video call with the reinstatement committee. They felt there was “little improvement” in her mental and emotional health, an assessment Lora contests. “I had taken the LOA because I felt I wasn’t in a good place and making the most out of my studies, but I wasn’t at risk or having suicidal thoughts,” she said.
Lora said there was “insufficient explanation and a lot of waiting” as she made two unsuccessful appeals. This occurred during the summer, when she was completing an internship, going to summer school, and intent on returning. In the middle of July, Dean Bridges apologized via email for the mistake in having her do the reinstatement process, and said she could return. “[The mistake] caused me a lot of distress through my summer,” said Lora.
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Her experience during reinstatement meant she has trouble trusting the DOS now, said Lora, adding that it is important that returning students trust the DOS enough to get the support they need acclimatizing back to Yale-NUS. Students who fail to get reinstated should have a separate body to appeal to in case of mistakes during the process, she added.
Dean Bridges avoided answering specific questions from The Octant about problems students have with the LOA process, such as previous mistakes and how the administration could better support students in the process.
In an email reply, he said the LOA policy and process is being reviewed, but did not respond to a request for further information by press time. He said, “The best place to find information on the policy is within the Undergraduate Regulations. I encourage students who have questions about the Leave of Absence process to speak directly with their VRs, who can help students understand the written policy if they have any questions, and can best advise students based on their own personal needs.”
Holmes said greater awareness of how to apply for an LOA and its procedures is needed. ”It’s something that a lot of people think they feel overwhelmed and want to take a semester off—but are not sure how to go about it,” he said. The current policy encourages students to approach their VRs to discuss LOA.
According to estimates by The Octant, at least fourteen students have gone on a LOA, and five of them are currently on leave.
Despite the problems with her reinstatement, Lora said she was ultimately grateful for the chance to take the semester off. “I took care of my mental health and I feel like that allowed me to be happier and have a fuller experience here,” she said.