Provost’s office working on student leave of absence policy


The idea of creating a university-wide student leave of absence policy was greeted favorably by members of the University Senate’s Educational Policies committee at its Jan. 13 meeting.

Joseph J. McCarthy, vice provost for Undergraduate Studies, told the committee that currently there is an informal leave of absence policy that lets students not enroll for three semesters (including summer) before they have to re-apply. This is mostly applied to students who just drop off the radar.

There are several reasons that people withdraw from the University, including medical issues or family problems. Now, if a student contacts the school or department to say they need to take a leave, there is no formal university-wide process.

Some schools, such as medicine and nursing, do have policies, which McCarthy would like to review in developing one for the University. He’ll also be benchmarking against peer institutions.

McCarthy said they want to make sure students are aware of the financial aid implications of taking a leave and they want to study whether there are benefits to having a formal leave of absence policy. The policy might have to differentiate between undergraduate and graduate students.

Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner also wants to look at an involuntary leave of absence policy, McCarthy said, where the University can require a student withdraw for a semester or more. Legal issues could complicate this type of policy. For instance, if University officials are concerned about a student doing harm to themselves or others, they often can’t act until the student has done something wrong, and by then it’s too late.

Canvas is coming

The committee also heard from Cynthia Golden, executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, and Michael Arenth, director of educational technologies at the center, about the transition from Blackboard to Canvas learning management systems.

Around 500 faculty members are using Canvas this semester, after around 100 early adopters used the program in the fall. By fall 2020, everyone will be transitioned to Canvas. Golden said they want to minimize the time that faculty and students are using both programs.

Even if they’ve switched to Canvas, faculty members can retrieve information on their own from Blackboard until the contract ends in June. After that, the data will be available for two years, but users will have to go through the Center for Teaching and Learning to retrieve it.

“We’d like to encourage people to migrate as soon as they can,” Arenth said. “Our intent is to keep the data for two years, particularly for people who don’t teach every year.”

Training sessions will be held throughout the spring semester, both on the basics of Canvas and some of its more advanced features.

Canvas is providing 24/7 direct support for all faculty and students, via chat, phone and email. The chat can be launched from within Canvas by clicking on the help menu, and the direct phone number is 412-314-1719.

The learning management system consulting team at Pitt also is available from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays at or 412-648-2832 or by visiting B23 Alumni Hall. There also are self-service resources available online at The Teaching and Learning Center offers other assistance through its Canvas@Pitt website.

Midterm course survey

Golden also talked about the new midterm course surveys that instructors can now request the teaching survey dashboard

Of those who piloted the program in the fall, Golden said 97 percent plan to continue using the midterm surveys. She said 84 percent reported making changes to the course based on the student feedback.

One faculty member said that students seemed to me more forthcoming in the end-of-the-course survey because they saw that the issues they raised in the midterm report were taken seriously.

The midterm course surveys are now available to all faculty members and can be requested through Jan. 31 on the Teaching and Learning Center’s website. Custom questions can be added from Jan. 27 to Feb. 9. The surveys go live from Feb. 10 to 16.

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at or 412-648-4294.


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