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Graduate students call for changes to leave of absence policy

Changes to UCLA’s leave of absence policy

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 senior staff.

By Stephen Stewart and Amanda Schallert

Jan. 28, 2013 12:21 a.m.

Two graduate student organizations released statements against recent changes to the leave of absence policy earlier this month, as part of continued graduate student response against the changes.

Previously, graduate students had the option to take a leave of absence -– up to six quarters off for medical, family, military, emergency, research or academic purposes. Starting in 2009, the University of California adopted a systemwide policy known as in absentia, which allowed graduate students to study out of state and only pay 15 percent of their tuition. Last quarter, to stop the overlap between the two policies, UCLA narrowed the terms of its campus leave of absence policy.

With the change to the policy, graduate students can now only take up to three quarters off, and not for research or academic reasons. Graduate students who want to do in-state research do not qualify for either a leave of absence or in absentia and must pay full tuition.

This month, the Graduate Students Association Social Sciences Council and the UC Student-Workers Union released official statements calling on UCLA administrators to reverse the changes to the leave of absence policy.

The statements also called for changes to a policy that caps the time a graduate student can be a teaching assistant to 18 quarters.

The Graduate Students Association decided to form a subcommittee last week to draft a resolution to vote on at the next GSA forum.

If passed, the resolution will act as the formal opinion of all graduate students and allow discussion on the issue to be reopened in the UCLA Academic Senate Graduate Council, said Nicole Robinson, vice president of academic affairs.

“An official opinion would give us more clout in reopening the discussion,” Robinson said.

Graduate students have protested the policy change since the beginning of this academic year.

Last quarter, graduate students held a town hall meeting where they discussed the new changes and actions they planned to take against them. A group of graduate students plan to release a YouTube video publicizing the effects of the changes soon, said Cody Trojan, recording secretary for the UC Student-Workers Union and the organizer of the town hall meeting.

The GSA subcommittee will determine if the changes should be reversed completely or modified to address unintended gaps in the policy, said David Zeke, GSA president.

GSA is also considering putting an advisory referendum on the spring ballot to reflect student views of the policy changes, Robinson said.

“The financial burden can fall on students (with this policy),” Zeke said. “There needs to be some way an exception is made (for students researching in-state).”

April de Stefano, director of academic services in the UCLA Graduate Division, said UCLA adopted changes to the leave of absence policy partially to encourage continuous enrollment, as sometimes it can take graduate students longer to finish their program if they take a leave of absence. She added that the new policy is intended to increase interaction between graduate students and their department faculty.

Joseph Watson, associate dean in the graduate division, and de Stefano attended the GSA forum last week to address graduate student concerns about the policy changes. When the students asked the representative for advice at the forum about the best strategy to reverse the policies, Watson said students should talk to their departments for support.

No faculty members have approached the graduate division about reversing the policies thus far, de Stefano said.

“We’ve been trying to implement as many policies as we can that make sense for student welfare,” de Stefano said. “It’s a very deliberate process – the intent (is) to make things easier and better.”

In their statements, the Graduate Students Association Social Sciences Council and the UC Student-Workers Union also asked administrators to allow departments to determine how long a graduate student can be a teaching assistant.

The policy currently counts quarters spent both being a teaching assistant and a graduate student researcher toward the maximum. The policy will soon be changed so the 18-quarter limit does not include when a student works as a graduate research assistant, de Stefano said.

Jessica Lee, a graduate student in the UCLA School of Nursing, said she had learned of the change recently at a Graduate Student Nursing Association meeting. Lee said she thinks the change to the leave of absence policy is not fair to students who have to take a leave, even though she does not plan on taking one.

“I don’t think many of the students know (this change) is happening,” Lee said.

GSA plans to vote during sixth week on whether or not to adopt the proposed resolution in response to the changes.

Email Stewart at [email protected] and Schallert at [email protected].

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