An update on the withdrawal and readmission review

Chancellor Cynthia Barnhart has charged organizations we lead, namely the Committee on Academic Performance (CAP) and the Office of the Dean for Undergraduate Education (DUE), with reviewing the undergraduate withdrawal and readmission policies at MIT. We are writing to update the community on our progress and to solicit input to our review.

Chancellor Barnhart was particularly interested in addressing students’ concerns about the clarity, transparency, and fairness of existing policies, as well as the support system available to students while they are away. Concerns about the withdrawal and readmission processes have been growing among MIT students, as they have been at many colleges across the country. Responding to these concerns, last year the Committee on Student Life spent substantial time discussing withdrawals and readmission and presented a report to the Chancellor. Now the CAP, in coordination with DUE, has organized a comprehensive formal review. We plan to present a report of our findings to the Chancellor, and ultimately the community, by the spring term of 2016.

The CAP, which has nine voting members (six faculty and three students) and six non-voting ex officio members, has already met several times this semester to conduct its review. The CAP is in the process of canvassing the Institute to solicit feedback from the community to aid in its deliberations. It has already solicited direct input from over a dozen student, faculty, and staff groups that have considerable direct experience in the issues under review. At the end of this letter, we provide information about how anyone in the MIT community who has thoughts about how the withdrawal and readmission processes could be improved can share those thoughts with us.

We have already learned a lot. The goals of the withdrawal and readmission processes are to help students transition away from MIT smoothly and then to return to the Institute when they are ready. Student Support Services processes about 100 withdrawals a year (45 in the category of Voluntary Withdrawals for jobs, religious missions, and personal family matters and 55 in the category of Medical Withdrawal for medical/mental health issues). The CAP requires an additional 20–30 to take academic withdrawal.

Although there are many parts of the withdrawal and readmission processes that work well, there are also several areas of concern that need to be addressed. For instance:

1) There is not enough clarity in the withdrawal and readmission processes, and simple things like terminology sometimes creates confusion.

2) There is a fear on the part of some students that if they visit Student Support Services they will be forced to take a withdrawal.

3) Some students worry that they will feel unsupported and forgotten while on withdrawal, or that they will not be allowed to return to the Institute.

4) Students want easier ways of leaving and returning to the Institute.

We see it as our charge to address each of these concerns (and more), and we are committed to using this review to make things better.

However, before submitting our recommendations to the Chancellor, we can say a few things with absolute certainty. First, we are determined to make these processes open, easy, and positive. Second, when students take withdrawals, they are still considered admitted MIT students; they do not lose this status just because they take a hiatus from school. Finally, the Institute is committed to helping every single student who wants to return from withdrawal to return smoothly and successfully.

To close, we want the community to know we are open to feedback. We have heard the message loud and clear that many people care about these processes. We want to hear from anyone who wishes to have a voice in this process. For those who would like to contribute feedback, we have set up an email address, wdreview@mit.edu, that can be used to share thoughts, concerns, or suggestions with the CAP. We look forward to hearing from everyone who has an experience or opinion they would like to share and to presenting the results of our review.

Dennis M. Freeman
Professor of Electrical Engineering
Dean for Undergraduate Education

Charles Stewart III
Professor of Political Science
Chair, Committee on Academic Performance