Saturday, August 17, 2013

This can't end well

The previous policy in re: disability accommodations on my campus was this:

The office of disability concerns sends a letter out to the instructor, usually a few days before classes start, informing him or her of the accommodations a student is entitled to.

It worked pretty well. By getting it a few days in advance we knew what to prepare for: for example, a couple semesters I had students who had had back surgery or who had been in car accidents and for whom it was difficult and uncomfortable to use the standard classroom chairs, so we could arrange for an alternate chair. (Disability Concerns would bring them over and then pick them up at the end of the semester). Also, we were mentally prepared: is there going to be someone requiring a note-taker? Is there someone with low vision, for whom you might have to change how you teach?

The new model, to reflect that Disability Concerns has been downsized*, is that the STUDENT gets the letter and then brings it to us the first day of class, and then we get to make arrangements. Yay. (What about faculty like me - or faculty who might actually be on the Autism spectrum (it's possible) who have big problems with stuff bring sprung on them? I mean, I'm not in any way autistic but I LOATHE being told "you need to make this change" at the last minute and it really throws me off my game. So much better to know and be able to take care of things a couple days in advance).

But I have a bigger issue about laying the onus on the student to bring the letter in. First of all: do they get one letter only, so I have to look at it, remember what I need to do, and then hand the letter back? So now in addition to remembering to send an exam needing more time over 48 hours in advance (it used to be 24), now I have to be sure to remember who I have to do that for?

But the bigger issue is this: it's totally on them to show us the letter. If they don't show us the letter, we don't know we have to accommodate them. And that can, I suspect, lead to all kinds of bad things. I realize I'm paranoid here, but I was burned one semester by a student. I don't know if he was really less with-it than I thought (for example: he missed lab one day and came and demanded a make-up lab. When I told him I couldn't do a make-up lab, he remarked, "I have a very bad sense of time. I forgot to set the alarm on my phone so nothing reminded me it was time to go to lab." Um, that's not my fault? But I went through the rigamarole of allowing him to make up the lab (thank God it was one he could do on his own time) because I didn't want to run afoul of Disability Concerns). Or maybe he was gaslighting me - on several occasions he claimed I was not present for appointments he had made to see me. And the time he quoted for the appointment was a time I was actually in class and NOT THE TIME I MADE THE APPOINTMENT FOR. And he went to one of the administrators with that story and I had to try to explain myself.

So I'm paranoid: what if someone either forgets to bring in the letter and then gets embarrassed that they did, and figures it's better to throw the instructor under the bus than to fess up to their mistake, or what if they out-and-out decide NOT to bring the letter in so they can cry foul and get all kinds of sympathy? I could see someone going at the end of the semester, "My professor never made my required accommodations!" and the professor going "But I didn't know you deserved them!" and it's all he-said, she-said, because there's no clear evidence of a letter being shown to the prof. (Yes. I asked several of TPTB if there was going to be a receipt we signed to verify that we had seen the accommodation letter. Apparently not. I hope that changes JOLLY fast.). I'm wondering if we'll see instructors or adjuncts let go - or perhaps the few untenured tenure-track people we still have having their tenure and promotions requests affected - because a student didn't bring in their letter and then cried "Foul!"

Yes, I know that's paranoid. But when you're getting calls from a Dean saying, "I hear you weren't in your office when Student X had an appointment with you, and he's not very happy about that," and you WERE in your office, and Student X just never showed.....well, it's easy to BECOME paranoid.

(I will also note: if the person in question really had as bad time-management skills as he claimed: as in, if no one told him "you have to be in place X now" he wouldn't know he had to.....well, he shouldn't be in college. He just shouldn't. I'm sorry. I know that makes me a hater but there's a point where you just have to say "Enough.")

(*As I have said to multiple colleagues: "The ONE bureaucracy on campus that ACTUALLY DOES A GOOD JOB and they cut its budget and take it down to one employee. Smaaaaaart.")

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