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Tracking COVID-19 at UCLADance Disassembled: Seeing Beyond the Curtain

Conflict over changes to leave of absence policy continues

By Stephen Stewart

May 28, 2013 1:27 a.m.

This article was updated on May 29 at 1:39 p.m.

The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

Graduate students gave a presentation to the UCLA Academic Senate Graduate Council last Friday, in which they expressed concerns about changes made to UCLA’s leave of absence policy. Despite the students’ demands that the council vote immediately to reverse the changes, the meeting ended without the council acting immediately on the matter.

The Graduate Council, composed of faculty members and student representatives, sets academic policies and standards for graduate students. The UCLA Graduate Division reformed the leave of absence policy last spring to conform to the University of California-wide in absentia policy.

Under the revised policy, graduate students can only take three instead of six quarters off for a leave of absence, but can petition for three additional quarters in case of emergency. Graduate students also can no longer take a leave of absence for academic purposes, such as writing their dissertations.

In order to reverse or change the leave of absence policy adopted by UCLA, the Graduate Council must vote to change it, and then work with the Graduate Division to implement it, said Robin Garrell, vice provost for graduate education and dean of the UCLA Graduate Division.

Three graduate students presented at the end of the Graduate Council’s meeting Friday with the hope that the council would vote to reverse the policy. Joseph Nagy, chair of the Graduate Council, ended the meeting a little after the set ending time without the council voting on the matter, said Courtney Cecale, the head steward of the UC Student-Workers Union and one of the three students who presented.

“Because we were scheduled at the end of the meeting, our presentation was cut off,” Cecale said. “We were told the council would take (our presentation) into consideration.”

The council will continue to discuss the issue of the leave of absence policy in the future, Nagy said.

Nicole Robinson, vice president of academic affairs of the Graduate Students Association and GSA president-elect, said the council likely didn’t vote on reforming the policy because it usually deliberates longer on complex issues.

“The council’s structure really tends towards presentation, discussion and planned action,” Robinson said.

A few weeks ago, about a dozen graduate students protested outside of the Graduate Council meeting, interrupting it and demanding a reversal of last year’s leave of absence changes. They were denied entry to the meeting as they had to be on the council’s agenda to enter.

Recently, 90 percent of graduate students who voted in the graduate student government election last month passed an advisory referendum in disapproval of the policy changes. Earlier this year, members of the GSA presented to the Graduate Council about the policy’s adverse effects on graduate student quality of life.

“We voted as a democratic body through GSA and 90 percent of the people who voted were against these changes,” Cecale said. “The meeting was to say that these (graduate students) have come together and (the council members) need to change them now.”

Mauricio Velasquez, a political science graduate student, said he is against the changes in the leave of absence policy as the changes have affected his future research plans. Instead he says he plans to cut his research time in half, spending just one year in Colombia instead of two years in Colombia and Uganda.

Even though the Graduate Council did not act immediately, Velasquez said graduate students should keep returning to the council and asking them to change the policy back.

“I think we should try to talk to (the council) again and again,” Velasquez said. “We should keep putting pressure on them.”

Cody Trojan, the recording secretary for the UC Student-Workers Union and incoming GSA vice president of academic affairs, was one of the three graduate students that presented to the Graduate Council Friday. He said he plans to contact the graduate students who signed the petition to see what actions they want to take next.

As next year’s vice president of academic affairs for GSA, Trojan also said that he plans on trying to get the leave of absence policy on the agenda for every Graduate Council meeting if the issue is not resolved this academic year.

“I will ask the chair every meeting to put it on the agenda and if that doesn’t happen I’ll bring it up anyways,” Trojan said.

Robinson said she plans to continue working with the UCLA Graduate Division and Graduate Council when she is GSA president next year to make the policy as beneficial as possible.

Additionally, she said she hopes to work with GSA presidents from other UC campuses to change the UC-wide in absentia policy.

Correction: The UCLA Graduate Division reformed the leave of absence policy last spring to conform to the University of California-wide in absentia policy.

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Stephen Stewart
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