White Papers & Research

White Papers & Research

The Ruderman White Paper Reveals: Ivy League Schools Fail Students with Mental Illness

The Foundation’s White Paper on Mental Health in the Ivy League investigates the practice of imposing leaves of absence on students who are experiencing mental illness. The study grades the leave of absence policies of all 8 universities, none of which received higher than a D+


The Ruderman Family Foundation—international leaders in advocating for the full inclusion of people with disabilities into society—released a study that revealed failing and discriminatory practices by all eight Ivy League universities in their mental health policies.

Authored by Miriam Heyman, PhD, a Senior Program Officer at the Foundation, “The Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health in the Ivy League” individually grades each university, none of which received better than a D+ mark. The white paper focuses on a common response of colleges to the mental health crisis on campus—providing or imposing leaves of absence on students who are experiencing mental illness. While a leave of absence is potentially useful to both the student and the school, many schools also use the leave of absence as a tool for discrimination, pushing students out of school who are entitled by law to receive accommodations and support which would enable them to stay.

The report’s release comes as mental health disabilities are increasingly pervasive on college campuses. According to the American College Health Association, 40 percent of undergraduates have felt so depressed within the past twelve months that it was difficult for them to function.  More than 10 percent of undergraduates have seriously considered suicide during the past year.  Meanwhile, college resources provide woefully inadequate support to students. Current estimates suggest that there is one mental health clinician for every 1,000-2,000 students on smaller campuses, and one clinician for every 2,000-3,500 students on larger campuses.

In examining the leave of absence policies at the Ivy League schools, the white paper points to components of the policies that are ambiguous at best and discriminatory at worst. School policies were scored based on 15 indicators. The report’s key findings (from four of the fifteen indicators) include:


  • Half (four) of the Ivy League schools have policies that include “community disruption” as grounds for an involuntary leave of absence. When there is not a threat to the safety of others, behaviors that are disruptive that result from a disability should not result in exclusion. Courts have ruled that discrimination on the basis of disability-caused behavior is the same thing as discrimination on the basis of disability, which is illegal.


  • Four of the eight schools prohibit students from visiting campus while they are on leave. This means that students who are taking time away from the academic demands in order to focus on their own well-being become socially isolated, as they are banned from coming to campus to share a meal with friends.


  • According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, students with disabilities are entitled to receive reasonable accommodations, some of which could enable students to stay in school instead of taking a leave of absence. Yet half of the Ivy League schools’ policies do not mention entitlement to reasonable accommodations to mitigate the need for a leave.


  • The majority of the schools (five out of eight) have policies that include a minimum length of time for a leave of absence. The trajectory of mental illness and treatment varies from one person to the next, and the student should be allowed to return whenever he or she is ready. If there is a minimum length for leaves of absence in general (including leaves not pertaining to mental health), the policy should include a statement noting that students with disabilities are entitled to modification of the time restriction— this modification is an example of a reasonable accommodation, under the Americans with Disabilities Act.


Based on the report’s analysis of policy indicators and grading criteria—which were developed in consultation with leading national experts on college mental health—the Ivy League schools all received grades of D+ or worse, as follows: Brown University (D), Columbia University (D), Cornell University (D-), Dartmouth College (F), Harvard University (D-), Princeton University (D), University of Pennsylvania (D+), and Yale University (F).

The paper also illuminates stories from several high-profile cases in which courageous students from Ivy League schools have told their stories of struggle and discrimination. The findings demonstrate that the Ivy League universities—the most elite institutions in our nation—are failing to lead the sector of higher education in supporting students with mental health disabilities.

“The Ivy League schools are the most elite in our nation, and they are failing to provide leadership that the sector of higher education desperately needs.  It is our hope that the Ivy League schools will change their policies to reflect institutional commitment to supporting students with mental health disabilities.  This will encourage hundreds of colleges and universities around the country to do the same” Jay Ruderman, President, Ruderman Family Foundation.

Heyman, the white paper’s author, received her Ph.D. in Applied Developmental and Educational Psychology from Boston College, where she focused her studies on individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. She has published research findings related to employment and the wellbeing of people with disabilities in several journals, including the Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, Early Child Development and Care, and the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation. She is also an adjunct faculty member at Boston College, where she teaches undergraduate and graduate psychology courses.


Read the ‘Ruderman White Paper on Mental Health in the Ivy League’ in full:

Published on December 10th, 2018

Latest Post

Stay Included

To stay up to date on our most recent advocacy efforts, events and exciting developments, subscribe to our newsletter and blog!