CAP report recommends creation of “leave of absence”

A two-year “leave of absence” and a reaffirmation that students on leave are expected to return to the Institute to complete their degrees are among the recommendations detailed in a report released yesterday by the Committee on Academic Performance (CAP).

The CAP undertook a review of MIT’s withdrawal and readmissions policies after Chancellor Cindy Barnhart PhD ’88, responding to student concerns over the “clarity, transparency, and fairness” of existing policies, charged the committee to gather feedback and recommend changes in fall 2015.

The review investigated four categories of withdrawal: voluntary, medical, required, and involuntary medical withdrawal. CAP readmits all students who leave MIT through one of these four processes; in contrast, students seeking to be readmitted after a disciplinary suspension would be reviewed by the Committee on Discipline.

The CAP, which comprises six faculty members, three student representatives, and six non-voting ex officio members, reviews on a semesterly basis the records of undergraduates who do not meet minimum academic standards, and may issue warnings or require a student to withdraw.

Among the recommendations is a proposed “leave of absence” that would allow students to take up to a two-year leave from the Institute without being required to go through a formal readmissions process. This could be used by students to take time to “clear their heads” or who are pursuing “meritorious opportunities” like internships, Charles Stewart, professor of political science and chair of CAP, said in an interview with The Tech.

“Normalizing taking time away from MIT” was a critical goal of the recommendations, Stewart said.

The report also recommends changing the nomenclature used to describe the withdrawal and readmissions process.

“The terms ‘withdrawal’ and ‘readmission’ impose a significant barrier to student understanding of the processes associated with leaving and returning ... we must emphasize that time away from the Institute does not constitute a permanent severing of its relationship with a student,” the report said.

Instead, the report recommends referring to students as “on leave” instead of “withdrawn,” and using “return” rather than “readmission.”

The report noted that students sometimes expressed “outright widespread distrust” in the processes leading to withdrawal and readmissions. A survey to gather feedback from 194 students at MIT who had withdrawn and been readmitted yielded 45 responses, which expressed mixed feelings about both processes.

In conducting the review, the committee heard from students “that the threat of invoking the involuntary medical leave policy has been used to coerce students into taking a leave ‘voluntarily.’” The committee also found a high degree of student concern around psychiatric hospitalizations. It recommended that the Chancellor charge the relevant bodies with reviewing policies on involuntary medical leave, and psychiatric hospitalizations.