Policies shouldn’t force students with mental health issues out of school

In most cases, a university proposing a new measure to provide mental health treatment to students is viewed as something positive. But the University of Toronto’s proposed mandatory leave program is not one of these cases, and in fact is further proof that that school is more concerned with protecting its academic reputation than with the mental wellbeing of its students.

The proposed policy would allow the university to place students on a mandatory leave if they are a danger to themselves or others, are making education more difficult for other students, or are having difficulty with their own education, all as a result of a mental illness. The policy would go into effect after existing resources such as counseling or other treatments have been attempted, and is intended to be  a measure of last resort.

Make no mistake—this policy essentially removes students from campus for inconveniencing their classmates and peers, and the administration. This takes agency and control away from those living with mental illnesses, and instead focuses almost solely on their supposed negative impacts on the community.

This policy is only supposed to be enacted when other resources have been exhausted. It’s unclear how the U of T administration expects to use all other resources possible, when only a few years ago their support system was so overburdened that students were turning to counselling sessions run by graduate psychology students.

This isn’t the first time the U of T has tried to sweep cases of students with mental health issues under the rug. In 2015 the university removed a student from residence after he attempted suicide, and told him he needed a note from a psychiatrist if he wanted to return to residence the following semester. This practice may have violated the residence’s duty to accommodate laid out in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

A 2016 ombudsperson report highlighted that one academic program at the university encouraged students to drop out of the program rather than making “all but the most minimal accommodations,” though no specifics were given.

All of these actions showcase that the U of T has little interest in creating and enforcing a consistent and caring mental health policy on their campus. If you are concerned about the mental health of students on campus then your primary concern shouldn’t be to get them off campus, it should be to get them help. This policy takes agency away from those students suffering from mental illness, and instead hides them away, all so the U of T can maintain their image of being Canada’s top university.