The original version of this article contained errors. See the bottom of the article for additional information.
Blanket changes by the UCLA Graduate Division to its leave of absence policies will leave some graduate students out in the rain with few affordable options to pursue long-term academic projects.
The amended policy reduces the maximum period of leave of absence, a temporary withdrawal from the university, from six to three quarters. Under the revised code, graduate students can only provide medical, personal emergency and familial reasons for taking a leave of absence. Academic work ““ dissertations, research and fieldwork ““ will no longer be accepted as reasons for taking a leave.
This board believes the UCLA Graduate Division’s one-size-fits-all policy is an ill-advised move that may hurt graduate students in departments where fieldwork, or similarly extensive research projects, outside California is commonplace. This work is vital to the students’ development and to the maintenance of UCLA’s reputation as a top-flight research institution.
The revisions are part of the administration’s effort to standardize two competing policies: leave of absence and in absentia. An in absentia status, which allows graduate students to pursue research outside California while paying 15 percent of their school fees, aims to provide an affordable avenue for students to pursue their academic goals outside the classroom while maintaining enrollment and a relationship with the university.
The university should not ask graduate students, many of whom are already working through debts accrued from their undergraduate degrees and may be supporting their own families, to foot an additional bill while disengaged from the university for research and work on their dissertations.
The standardized set of policies encourages students to file for in absentia status while writing their dissertations and conducting fieldwork rather than temporarily ending their relationship with the school.
Both policies have their drawbacks.
A leave of absence ends health care coverage from the university, and may weaken students’ relationships with their faculty mentors and lengthen the students’ time-to-degree, said April de Stefano, director of academic services in the UCLA Graduate Division.
However, for some students, a leave of absence is necessary.
While we understand the effort to standardize policies, we feel a department-by-department review to evaluate the needs of graduate students in each discipline would better serve both students and their programs.
This approach would allow students to have extended time off for academic work, accounting for the financial burden of the in absentia policy to better accommodate the university’s graduate student population.
We hope the UCLA Graduate Division will consider undertaking a department-by-department review with input from graduate students before amending their leave of absence in such a far-reaching manner.
Correction: The original version of this article contained errors. In absentia was misspelled. Under the revised code, graduate students cannot provide financial reasons for taking a leave of absence.