February 4, 2009

Leave of Absence Poses Issues

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For students who discover that their health is significantly impairing their ability to study, the Cornell University Health Leave of Absence Policy is an easy way to voluntarily separate oneself from the University. While it might be simple to leave Cornell, some students are finding out that returning to Cornell is much more difficult.
Voluntary Leave of Absence is a policy that addresses the needs of students who, for various reasons, feel that they have to interrupt their coursework for a period of time. A health leave of absence falls into this category, and while most of the Cornell colleges have their own method of dealing with voluntary leaves of absence, in the case of HLOAs, the colleges tend to defer their decisions to Gannett Health Services.
“A health leave is taken for medical reasons. Quite simply, we are not doctors, so we are unable to evaluate a student’s ability to achieve academically when medical concerns are present. To ensure the best possible care for our students, we require Gannett or another health care provider be involved in, not only the leave, but also the return process,” Pamela Torelli, student support associate for the counseling and advising office in CALS, stated in an e-mail.
­­­For students who are suffering from debilitating health problems, the HLOA policy is a preferable alternative to taking a personal leave, according to Gannett. A student who takes an HLOA does not have to pay tuition during their absence. Also, an HLOA gives students who are having a hard semester the opportunity to drop the presumably poor grades from their GPA no matter how late into the semester the HLOA is granted.
Dr. Gregory Eells, associate director of Gannett Health Services, said that Gannett sees about 60 to 70 HLOAs per semester. Most requests are granted because the majority of the people that apply have a diagnosable condition. However, the individual reasons for HLOA vary greatly.
“There is a full range, most of the time they are for psychological reasons — they need to get away and take a break,” Eells said.
The University holds the expectation that while on leave, students will use the time for their personal treatment and recovery. The average amount of time spent away on an HLOA is six months to a year. The reason for this length of time is to enable a student to completely recover in accordance with Gannett Health Services’ treatment expectations. Coming back to Cornell earlier than the typical length of an HLOA is difficult because the students have to be granted approval to return.
“Most people want to come back right away, however, that is not the process, and coming back before you are treated is really setting yourself up [for failure],” Eells said. “A lot of it is prompted by working with your medical care provider. [Gannett] takes a look at it too. We don’t just take their word for it.”
The conditions for coming back from an HLOA. The most important condition is that the student has recovered from the ailment that originally required them to go on leave from the University.
Another barrier to making an early return is timing of the documentation and proof of recovery that Gannett requires. In order to return for a fall semester, a student needs to alert Gannett by June 1 and submit all the necessary documentation by July 1, according to the Gannett website. To return for a spring semester, a student needs to alert Gannett by Nov. 1 and submit documentation by Dec. 1.
The student must demonstrate that they are fully recovered through an evaluation with Gannett staff and ultimately must seek clearance from Gannett before they matriculating once again. Without Gannett’s approval, the student will not be allowed to enroll for the upcoming semester as they will continue to be considered “on leave.”