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Grad school relaxes leave-taking policies

Administration eliminates readmission fee, allows continued resource access

By
Senior Staff Writer
Thursday, December 5, 2019

The Graduate School approved several changes to its leave-taking policies earlier this fall, which will eliminate the readmission fee for grad students returning from leave, allow students on leave continued access to libraries and email accounts and permit leave-takers to defer funding from the University, among other alterations.

The changes aim to improve “understanding and awareness” and help “students in unique and complicated situations navigate and address their situations,” said Associate Dean of Student Development Vanessa Ryan, who served on a working group of faculty members and graduate students focused on leave-taking.

Ryan said that students on leave should still be able to access their emails because “they are still degree-seeking students,” and may be making up incomplete coursework or giving talks. “It seems right that they still have an active Brown email account,” she added.

A fourth change will formally establish that grad students on leave are not expected to make further progress toward their degrees. “When a student steps away from their studies, it is really important that the timeline” of academic progress halts, Ryan said, so “they get that time away and start at the same place they left off.”

Changes still under review by the Grad School include creating a one-time emergency medical leave grant and establishing a process for short-term medical accommodations as an alternative to leave-taking.

As these two proposals will likely require additional funding, “they will need to be reviewed through the University’s budgeting process” and other offices on campus, Ryan wrote in a follow-up email to The Herald. “We would hope to put forward concrete proposals that can be reviewed in this year’s budgeting process for potential implementation in the next fiscal year,” which begins July 1.

Short-term medical accommodations could be especially helpful for international students, who can lose their visas if they go on leave and are no longer full-time students.

“Changes to federal law would be very helpful, but there are still ways to make a difference at the university level,” said Sophie Brunau-Zaragoza GS, the Graduate Student Council’s chair of international advocacy. “We’ve built our careers and our lives here. Some of us have children and spouses that we have to take care of.”

Ryan also noted the barriers international students face if they lose their visas as a result of going on leave, such as having to fly home or pay extra fees for breaking a lease. “A student can know that the best option for their health would be to take a medical leave but are concerned about the financial impact,” Ryan said. “We want to help alleviate that, though we know it’s in a modest way.”

The working group that shaped the recommended changes operated under the GSC’s shared governance model, which promotes grad student participation in University decision-making, said GSC President Alastair Tulloch GS. The model “is incredibly successful when it’s used correctly, and this is a perfect example of that.”

Student perspectives on “what they see as the challenges and where they think the pressure points are” were essential to evaluating leave-taking policies, Ryan said. “This was an instance where the student experience was absolutely essential to getting these policies right.”

Kaitlin Wilcoxen GS, GSC chair of communications and a member of the working group, said that having graduate students in the room “to say ‘these are the lived experiences’” was a necessary part of the process when it came to evaluating leave-taking policies.

Anastasia Tyslina GS, another member of the working group, said she “felt very free and open talking about even very sensitive issues,” and that her “opinion was equally valued and important.”

“This is an ongoing process,” Ryan said. “In a few years we will definitely have to return and assess the impact of our changes.”

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