As students are receiving their final grades for the fall semester, a new report from the Ruderman Family Foundation evaluated the mental health leave of absence policies of all eight Ivy League universities, with none of them receiving a passing grade.
In terms of scores, Cornell tied with Harvard, with both receiving D- grades. Princeton, Brown and Columbia earned grades of D, and the University of Pennsylvania had the highest grade with a D+. Yale and Dartmouth both received F’s.
“The Ivy League schools are the most elite in our nation, and they are failing to provide leadership that the sector of higher education desperately needs,” said Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation.
The Ruderman Family Foundation is a Jewish organization based in Boston advocating for “the inclusion of people with disabilities throughout our society.” The report was authored by a senior program officer at the foundation, Miriam Heyman, who has a Ph.D. in applied developmental and educational psychology from Boston College.
The report focused specifically on policies related to leaves of absence, arguing that “while a leave of absence is potentially useful to both the student and the school, many schools also use the leave of absence as a tool for discrimination, pushing students out of school who are entitled by law to receive accommodations and support which would enable them to stay.”
Each school was scored on 15 indicators, including policies related to going on leave, the details of the leave itself and the process of returning from leave. Cornell earned 28 points out of a maximum of 45, receiving a grade of D-.
In particular, the “problematic” aspects of Cornell’s policies in the report included that there are no leaves of absence given after the last day of classes, there is no liaison/contact person on campus after a student is placed on leave, students on leave can’t visit campus and the policy doesn’t mention assistance in securing housing upon returning from leaves of absence.
Cornell also received “best practice” scores for having transparent policies and procedures, not having a maximum/minimum number or duration for leaves and not having work or school requirements during the leave.
“The Ruderman report underscores what many students already know: Cornell’s mental health leave of absence policy is inadequate,” Scott MacLeod told The Sun. MacLeod is the father of Sophie Hack MacLeod ’14, who died by suicide in March 2016 while on a mental health leave of absence from Cornell. He and his wife Susan Hack founded a local non-profit, The Sophie Fund, in their daughter’s honor to raise awareness of and battle the stigma associated with mental health issues.
Mental health is not a new topic of concern at Cornell. In January, President Pollack denied a request to create an independent mental health task force proposed by The Sophie Fund. In March, Cornell Health’s Counseling and Psychological Services hired additional therapists, decreasing wait times. In September, following criticism from The Sophie Fund about the results of the external review of Cornell’s mental health practices conducted by the JED Foundation, the University announced it was in the planning stages of a “new comprehensive review” of its mental health policies that would involve internal and external partners.
In December, the student led mental health task force submitted its recommendations to University leadership, which includes proposals for the University to help students who don’t have have supportive households find housing in Ithaca during their leaves of absence and for the University to develop a more thorough system of support for students during every stage of the leave of absence process.
John Carberry, a spokesperson for Cornell, told The Sun that the University would not be able to comment on the issue immediately due to winter break.
“It is our hope that the Ivy League schools will change their policies to reflect institutional commitment to supporting students with mental health disabilities. This will encourage hundreds of colleges and universities around the country to do the same,” Ruderman said in the report.