College updates medical leave policy, effective January 2024
The new policy, renamed from the “medical leave policy” to the “time away for medical reasons policy,” expands support and resources for students taking time off.
In a campus-wide email on Sept. 14, Provost David Kotz ’86 announced major updates to the College’s current policy on medical leave. Under its new name, “time away for medical reasons,” the policy “expands support and resources for students and protects the right of all students (graduate, professional and undergraduate) to take time away for medical reasons,” according to Kotz’s email. The updated policy will take effect on Jan. 2, 2024.
According to the email, new resources include need-based financial assistance for medical insurance through Dartmouth Student Group Health Plan coverage, along with continued access to College email addresses, Uwill and campus employment opportunities for those on leave. In addition, the College is in the process of recruiting a “time away director” who will serve as a point of contact for students before, during and after taking medical leave.
Around 75 Dartmouth students take medical leave every year, but the College has not had a “single campus-wide policy,” Kotz said in an interview with The Dartmouth. This often resulted in confusion for students attempting to navigate the process, he said.
“The current set of processes and policies are confusing and ambiguous,” Kotz said. “One of our biggest goals was to bring clarity and simplicity to the whole system.”
Writing the new policy took over 18 months due to the number of guidelines and people involved, according to Kotz. Rewriting the policy started with a “comprehensive review of [Dartmouth’s] mental health and wellness program for students,” including discussions with students and faculty and an evaluation by the JED Foundation, Kotz wrote on Sept. 14.
Kotz credited student body president Jessica Chiriboga ’24 and student body vice president Kiara Ortiz ’24 — leaders of the Dartmouth Student Government — for their detailed look through the proposed policies and “deep, thoughtful, meaningful feedback.”
In Feb., DSG called for changes to the medical leave policy, including updating its name and allowing students to access certain College resources while on leave. In the past students had voiced concerns about the medical leave policy, with one student calling it “punishment” due to the lack of institutional support and the difficult process of returning to campus.
In an email to campus on June 2, Kotz first announced the medical leave policy’s name change from medical leave to time away for medical reasons, writing that the reason for the new name is “to describe more accurately its purpose and eliminate any misconceptions or stigma.”
According to Kotz, students require different amounts of time off depending on their medical conditions and personal situations and might not be able to predict the length of that time they require in advance. The new policy aims to “make it easy for someone struggling with a medical condition to arrange that time off and support them as they think about … when they’re ready to come back.”
Kotz said he hopes that the new policy can provide valuable support for students needing to take time off, regardless of whether they are facing mental or physical health challenges.
“My main message is that we are putting into place a system that is designed specifically to support students’ health,” he said. “There are lots of details, and I’m sure we will get lots of questions, and we will do our best to answer them and implement and improve the system over time.”