Academics and mental health go hand in hand. In a student’s university journey, one of the greatest stressors is academics. Students have been clear about this – last year, the final report of the University of Ottawa’s President’s Advisory Committee on Mental Health found that 66.8% of students found their academic work “traumatic or very difficult to handle”. The overwhelming number of assignments and exams, the rising cost of tuition, and the asymmetry of power between students and the institution are all driving forces behind our campus’ mental health crisis.

Although they are important, solutions to mental health cannot merely include more wellness programming or physical wellness spaces. They also need to recognize the interconnections between academics and mental health. They need to dismantle systemic and institutional barriers. Compassionate academic regulations are a way to make navigating academics easier and more adapted to a modern reality, where wellness and work-life balance are taking on more and more importance. Students aren’t just students, they are humans too – with families, jobs, friends, and relationships.

We are calling on the University of Ottawa to adopt the three following recommendations:

  1. A Pass/Fail Grading Option for the Fall 2021 Semester. A recent petition signed by over 2,600 students called on the University of Ottawa to introduce qualitative grading for 1 course only in the Fall 2021 semester, and a motion passed at the UOSU’s General Assembly to this effect received over 90% support. Classes are still primarily online at the University of Ottawa, and many of the same challenges from the 2020-21 academic year remain in place. Carleton University is re-offering the Pass/Fail option to its students; there is no reason why University of Ottawa students are not also deserving of the same.
  2. Introducing Self-Reported Absences. Students at Queen’s, Western, and other Ontario institutions have access to a compassionate academic considerations policy, where students can self-report absences in good faith, a limited number of times per semester, ahead of certain deadlines. Requests are submitted through a convenient, online portal, and the student is responsible for outlining a plan to make up the grade missed. Doctor’s notes are not an effective or efficient way to address accommodations for mental health-related needs, and professors are not trained to handle last-minute mental health requests. Workers can take sick leave and make up the work later; why shouldn’t students?
  3. Fix the Mandatory Attendance Rule. Mandatory attendance policies are unnecessary and unfair. If a student is unable to attend class because they are experiencing poor mental health, or simply need a break due to lack of motivation, they should not be penalized for needing to take some time off. For students waiting to receive a proper medical certificate for exemption, mandatory attendance policies place students at a significant disadvantage. To the extent that it is permitted under the Collective Agreements signed with the APUO and the APTPUO, the University of Ottawa should modify Academic Regulation I-9 (Evaluation of Student Learning) to include language that discourages or renders more compassionate the implementation of mandatory attendance participation grades. For example, in courses where a professor deems it absolutely necessary to evaluate mandatory attendance, students could be permitted to miss up to a certain number of lectures per class before losing marks.