Mental health prompts talk at Academic Senate


Mary McDonough

Even as the semester winds down, Academic Senate is still working to move NMU forward. In a Dec. 3 meeting, its attention turned to the inner workings of policies concerning student mental health, mainly the process of a voluntary psychological withdrawal.

Withdrawal allows students with severe mental health issues who find themselves unable to get through the semester a way to take the proper time off to seek help. If the student wants to return after withdrawing, there are parameters set up between them and their physician that the university
must refer to.

Associate Dean of Students Mary Brundage explained that the policy, which has existed since 2007, was changed due to student complaints in recent years regarding the previous involuntary psychological withdrawal. This launched an investigation  by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2015. 

“This voluntary psych withdrawal has always existed. We had an involuntary process and DOJ said, ‘You can’t be involuntarily removing students for mental health,’” Brundage said. “They looked at it and tweaked it and said, ‘This is how we want that process to look.’”

Those tweaks from the DOJ dealt with situations where a student wishes to return earlier than the parameters stated by their physician. Brundage pointed out that DOJ is mainly concerned with giving each student an individual assessment which would then be moved to the Admissions and Academic Policies Committee (AAPC). The Academic Senate was allowed to ask questions concerning the proposal that AAPC be a part of the withdrawal decision for students looking to return before the set parameters.

While many senate members agreed with the concept, the language of the proposal suggested by the DOJ seemed harsh to some. Communications instructor Sara Potter brought up the concern that it was student interpretations of policies that led to the previous complaints.

“Other students are reading these policies, not just those who have anxiety or depression. That was part of the backlash, was that other students got involved,” Potter said. “If everyone else is on board and understands our
process, then you get the community vibe.”

Any changes to the proposal have to be approved by the university attorney and DOJ which may draw out the process even more, Brundage said.

When it comes to the qualifications for AAPC to be involved in the decision making process, Brundage explained that the committee already handles similar cases with students who are academically suspended and that the change is not far from their training.

“They’re already hearing these cases. They’re looking at these extenuating circumstances. It’s just that they weren’t doing it for voluntary psychological withdrawal,” Brundage said.

Associated Students of Northern Michigan University (ASNMU) President Cody Mayer explained that while he might not agree with involving the university to be a part of a medical decision, but the conversation is important to move forward.

“I’m glad that this conversation is happening at the Senate. We can’t erase the stigma around mental health if we continue to tiptoe around the subject,” Mayer said. “So it’s good we are discussing policy to assist students with their mental health needs.”