Student Union representatives are currently in consultation with the RMIT Academic Registrar's group and members from Student Services in regards to concerns about a proposed policy for managing student conduct issues. Our concerns with the policy suite include issues with quality, training and oversight. We believe the majority of the issues with the policies could be solved by requiring student conduct decision makers to be trained, to avoid the many examples of allegations of misconduct being mishandled by the institution, leading to successful appeals, and for natural justice principles central to the processes.
In regards to the section of the draft Procedure regarding the 'Fitness for Study' procedure, we have expressed concerns to the institution regarding the potential of the process to create significant risks and liabilities for RMIT.
The article Students Slam 'Invasive' Mental Health Test (The Age July 25) outlines some of the Student Union's concerns.
The Fitness for Study Panel has been designed as an alternative to Student Discipline Procedures. The Student Union has expressed concerns about the legitimacy and fairness of the proposed process to the policy working group. The letter is available for download at the end of this page.
Our main concerns include:
Originally, from reading the policy drafts, the Student Union assumed that this procedure has been designed to be used when a student had displayed high risk or threatening behaviour. However, during our consultation meeting, RMIT staff expressed that the procedure was not about safety but about health, meaning that a student who poses no risk of harm to the institution, others or themselves could be targeted by the Panel. This is extremely concerning considering the invasive nature of the Panel's investigative powers, including the provision to require the student to undergo psychological testing.
The Student Union believes that students whose unacceptable behaviour may be related to a mental health condition could be managed by the normal student conduct procedures and referred to relevant support services if student conduct decision makers were trained for thier roles. RMIT is currently resisting making training a requirement.
The Student Union is concerned about how these policy drafts reflect RMIT's attitude towards students with a disability. From consultation with RMIT representatives, the Student Union is concerned that the process seems to be designed as a way of stigmatising and excluding students who are unwell and in need of support, or students the institution sees as a nuisance or problem. We believe that this policy may reinforce misconceptions that connect mental illness with violent behaviour.
When Student Union representatives pressed RMIT representatives for an example of the behaviour or situations that the Fitness for Study procedure has been designed to address, we did not receive a clear response. The RMIT representatives alluded to students who are 'disruptive in class', or who make unreasonable requests or complaints to University services, or who display 'weird and wonderful behaviour' or students whose health condition may prevent them from successfully completing their course, or to use their words, student who are 'too sick to study'. We have expressed to the University that the Disability Standards for Education make explicit RMIT’s obligations to support students with disabilities to study on an equal basis through the provision of reasonable adjustments. The belief that these rights do not apply to students who are ‘too sick’ is simply unsupported by this legislation and not a justifiable basis for potentially excluding the student.
We would like to see a coordinated case management style approach to disability support instead, where a student's rights are upheld and support is individually tailored to a students' needs. We hope that RMIT will consult further with us regarding the inclusion of support processes in these policies, rather than secretive, punitive and stigmatising procedures.
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Comments sent to the Academic Registrar by the Student Union on May 3rd- further detail and explanation regarding our concerns with the Fitness for Study section of the proposed policy.
Comments sent to the policy working group in June- detailing issues with the rest of the proposed regulation, policy and procedure, including issues with mandatory training for decision makers, natural justice concerns, appeal rights and the definition of academic misconduct.
Research conducted on the effects of labeling, stigmatization, stereotyping and discrimination against people with disabilities. The Student Union believes the Fitness for Study policy could have the effect of reinforcing stigmatizing attitudes towards student with mental health conditions.
Research by an RMIT Academic Jennifer Martin looking at the specific effects of the stigmatization of mental health conditions on University students.
Put to the Student Union in 2012, this proposal aims to reduce the number of students applying for special consideration by making criteria stricter and denying students' rights previously held. The Student Union believes the intentions behind this proposal are reflected now in Fitness for Study.
Sent to the policy working group in 2012 in response to a proposal which would reduce the rights of students applying for support services at RMIT. The Student Union believes that Fitness for Study represents a continued attempt to stigmatize and exclude students who apply for special consideration often, especially students with mental health conditions.