Senate has voted to update the policy concerning academic accommodation to include mental illness as grounds for accommodation as opposed to the previous terminology of medical illness.
“It used to be ‘accommodation for medical illness’ was the title of the policy, so it was thought that students just might assume that was a physical illness,” said John Doerksen, vice-provost academic programs.
“Instead of saying 'accommodation for physical and mental illness,' we simply changed the title of the policy to ‘accommodation for illness,’ and in the policy itself there’s a statement that identifies both physical and mental illness,” he continues.
The existing policy allows for accommodation for mental health concerns, but the inclusion of mental illness as a medical illness may have been unclear, according to USC vice-president internal Alex Benac.
“If the details of a policy aren’t clear about what is covered and what is not, then it can’t be reasonably assumed that it is working effectively,” Benac said in an email.
“The new illness policy will be much more adept at highlighting the grounds for academic accommodation and funnelling students in need of accommodation to the appropriate authority,” he continued.
Other updates to the policy have been implemented to reflect current practices, including specifying that students should seek accommodation “no later than two business days after the date specified for resuming responsibilities” and clarifying the dates for which students can receive accommodation.
“Current practice would be if a student comes with a medical documentation that the accommodation is only granted for the period indicated by the doctor or the professional — that was never spelled out before,” said senator Sheila Macfie.
“Now they require that the document that students must produce says ‘when did this start and when will the student reasonably be expected to resume normal duties.’ You can’t be sick two weeks ago and get accommodation for next week.”
Macfie emphasized students should know that Senate has not changed the policy but clarified the existing practices.
The process for receiving accommodation has not changed, as students still must present documentation of their illness to their dean’s office. The student medical certificate, updated in June 2015, uses a five-point scale to denote severity as well as start date and anticipated end date and must be filled out by a licensed practitioner.
According to student senator Emily Addison, the updated policy reflects that Western administration is committed to improving mental health services on campus.
“Overall this, along with numerous other changes around campus including the recent opening of the Student Wellness Centre in the UCC, demonstrates that Western does care about the mental health of its students,” Addison said.
“While sometimes there are legitimate constraints, restrictions and general slowness to improving the systems in place, the administration at Western wants to listen and address student concerns,” she continued.