WVU student government representative pursues progressive leave of absence policy

By Connor Schlegel

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Serious personal illness is difficult for anyone attempting to deal with it. But for a college student with daily attendance obligations to fulfill, serious illness can derail their entire college career.

Brandon Waters, a senior accounting student at West Virginia University, learned that first hand during his freshman year.

Waters, who was taking the anti-depressant Cymbalta at the time, starting experiencing adverse symptoms like a highly elevated heart rate and severe cramping in his extremities. Luckily, Waters was currently working in the emergency department at the Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown and was immediately checked out by a medical professional. The doctor informed Waters that she believed he was suffering from serotonin syndrome, which leads to increased excessive nerve cell activity due to high levels of serotonin in the body.

However, due to the rarity of serotonin syndrome occurrences, Waters personal psychologist was doubtful and denied the doctor’s diagnosis. Waters would land in the emergency room two more times due to the adverse side effects from continued consumption of manufactured serotonin in his medication.

That extended hospital time forced Waters to miss numerous lectures and classes during the course of his undergraduate education.
“I said, I really don’t know what to do with school,” Waters explained. “I’m so behind in everything. I missed like two tests in every single class that I have. I don’t know how to get caught back up.”
Waters’ college advisor told him to withdraw from his classes in order to avoid outright failing them. That forced Waters to lose his financial aid for the semester and to also pick up several summer classes in order to stay on a path to graduation.

Now serving as a senator in WVU’s Student Government Association, Waters is using his platform to pursue a progressive medical leave of absence policy. A medical leave of absence policy allows a student to withdraw from all of their classes without losing financial aid or having several dropped classes on their academic record.

Currently, WVU’s policy only allows a student to file for medical leave of absence prior to the start of a semester. The problem is that most students can’t foresee when a medical emergency will occur.

“You can’t really schedule to take a medical leave of absence for the semester that your cancer comes back or the semester that you’re in a car wreck. It’s all things that are out of your control,” Waters said. “So to get penalized by the university for it… I think its absolutely pitiful.”

Waters has been in contact with the office of the President of WVU, who’ve asked him to seek additional information to eventually provide a presentation on progressive medical leave of absence policies.

But as an accounting student, Waters understands that the university may have to protect their financial interests.

“Everything is a business and everything revolves around the bottom line,” he said. “And I don’t know that the university, especially in a time of budget cuts and our own budget crisis, I’m not sure if they’d be to willing to implement a policy that revolves around giving back to students in such a major way.”