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Leave of absence policy changes worry graduate students

Changes to the UCLA’s leave of absence policy
A new leave of absence policy went into effect at UCLA this fall.

Policy as of spring 2012:

  • Students could take off three consecutive quarters; six quarters total
  • Valid reasons for taking a leave included prepping for dissertation, thesis writing, family obligations, financial or medical reasons

Policy effective fall quarter:

  • Students can now only take off a maximum of three quarters total
  • Now students can take a leave of absence for family obligations, medical reasons, emergencies, military duty or outside employment

SOURCE: UCLA Graduate Division website
Compiled by Stephen Stewart, Bruin reporter.

By Stephen Stewart

Oct. 29, 2012 3:03 a.m.

Graduate students can no longer take time off to work on their dissertations, after recent changes to UCLA’s leave of absence policy.

Starting fall quarter, UCLA stopped accepting dissertation or thesis writing as a valid reason to take time off to help graduate students complete their degree paths on time, said April de Stefano, director of academic services in the UCLA Graduate Division.

The change hinges on the difference between two separate absence policies ““ taking a leave of absence and being in absentia.

UCLA’s leave of absence policy now only allows graduate students to take a maximum of three quarters off at no cost in the case of a family, medical or military obligation, an emergency, or outside employment. Before, students could take a leave of absence to work on their dissertations for up six quarters.

Now students are expected to use the relatively new in absentia leave when they take coursework or conduct research outside of California, but must remain a student by paying 15 percent of their UC tuition and student fees.

The change in the leave of absence policy could be an issue for graduate students, particularly those in the anthropology and archeology departments who do research abroad, said Edwin Everhart, vice president of internal affairs for the Graduate Students Association social sciences council and a graduate student in the anthropology department.

“(The adjustment) restricts the amount and quality of research,” said Brittany Jackson, a anthropology graduate student. “I can’t do a lot of stuff for the development of my professional and academic studies (now).”

Many students are only just learning about the change now, Everhart said.

Chris Lopez, a student in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, had not heard of the new leave of absence policy.

While at the moment the change will not affect him, it will definitely impact him the following year when he focuses more on his research, as he can now no longer take time off to only do research, Lopez said.

Particularly, many students who go abroad to collect data will now have to worry about paying 15 percent of their tuition on top of their travel and cost of living expenses, Everhart said.

“This is a policy that was (around) for years and students weren’t aware of (it),” Everhart said. “Now people are being told this and for most students it’s coming out of nowhere.”

The Graduate Division released a statement to the deans and department chairs last spring saying that the leave of absence policy would be changing starting this fall quarter.

In July 2009, UC President Mark Yudof formally approved the in absentia policy for all the UCs.

Soon after, UCLA established its own in absentia policy to comply with the system-wide policy, de Stefano said. This policy is identical across all the UCs in order to ensure continuous enrollment of graduate students, de Stefano said.

UCLA still allowed students to take a free leave of absence to work on their dissertation or research even though the in absentia system has been in place since 2009, de Stefano said.

Last year, differences between the leave of absence policy and Yudof’s directive came to light, de Stefano said.

Students at UCLA were choosing to take a leave of absence over in absentia because it would not cost them money, she said.

The change in the leave of absence policy will have both benefits and repercussions, said Glenda Jones, student affairs officer of the statistics department.

On one hand, the policy will encourage graduate students to meet their degree objective in a timely manner as a result of continuous enrollment.

On the other hand, having students pay university fees while they are not at the university will be a burden, Jones said.

International students who want to write their thesis and can’t afford to live locally no longer have the option to go home on a leave of absence, she said.

“Eighty percent (of international statistics students) are on their own funding and are not sponsored by the university,” Jones said. “It’s (going to) affect a lot of international students.”

Jones said she also wished the departments had more time to react to the change in policy and that students who already planned a leave of absence this fall quarter did not have to scramble to reorganize their schedule.

Linda Zanontian, a statistics graduate student, says the change will impact her in about a year as she progresses with her research on sampling techniques for online social networking.

“(Being a) TA is already becoming a struggle as I’m done with my coursework (and) it doesn’t give me much time to focus on my research,” Zanontian said.

The Graduate Student Association is working to inform graduate students of the change in the policy, said Nicole Robinson, vice president of academic affairs.

Information was presented at the last GSA meeting and has been emailed out to all the graduate councils, Robinson said.

“In the long term, this will be a good thing, as (it will prevent) graduate students from becoming untethered or not finishing their program,” de Stefano said.

Email Stewart at [email protected]

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