University to review disability services
Meeting once a week for the duration of this academic year, the Advisory Committee on Disability Services for Undergraduates is examining, in particular, the academic accommodations and services the office extends to students with learning disabilities in light of an increased number of students nationwide who report these special needs.
“The charge from the provost is to basically review the policies and practices of the ODS so that we can determine if they’re doing the best practices,” explained molecular biology professor Jean Schwarzbauer, who chairs the committee.
In October 2009, Diane Metcalf-Leggette ’13, who has been diagnosed with dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, filed a lawsuit against the University after ODS denied her request for 100 percent extra time on examinations.
She also filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights, alleging that the University violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by refusing to properly accommodate her learning disabilities.
As part of a settlement reached last May, Metcalf-Leggette agreed to drop her complaints in exchange for 100 percent extended time. In a statement announcing the settlement, the University also explained its plans to evaluate ODS independent of the litigation.
“The University decided to commission a task force to review its Office of Disability Services and its efforts to advance the University’s commitment to an inclusive and accessible campus,” the statement said.
The University has reserved the right to reevaluate Metcalf-Leggette’s accommodations when the committee concludes its evaluation.
Provost Christopher Eisgruber ’83, who appointed the committee, said that although planning for it began last year, plans were postponed in light of Metcalf-Leggette’s lawsuit.
“We held the review in abeyance during the period of the lawsuit so as not to have the two interfere with one another,” Eisgruber said in an e-mail. He explained that the committee was not a direct response to the lawsuit and that it would focus on “general questions of policy.”
Schwarzbauer echoed Eisgruber’s insistence that the committee has a broad mission. “We’re not going to focus on the details of last year’s case, so we won’t be using that to make decisions,” she said, but added that the committee would not avoid elements of the case that are relevant.
Schwarzbauer said the committee will consider whether ODS is adequately publicized to all students on campus, as well as whether its services are “appropriate for someone getting a Princeton education.”
“The reason for this committee is to make sure that the process is fair and that students know that the office exists, because there are probably a number of students on campus who might deserve accommodations but they don’t know about [ODS],” Schwarzbauer said.
Eisgruber stressed that the formation of the committee does not indicate disapproval of current practices. “In my view, ODS has been doing [its] job very well,” he said. “Even when we are doing well, however, we should look for opportunities to do better.”
“We are fortunate to have a terrific director of disability services at Princeton who is making a positive difference in the lives of many students,” Eisgruber added, speaking of Eve Tominey, director of ODS. “This committee is reviewing policies, not people.”
Tominey was not available to comment for this article.
Schwarzbauer said she, too, was pleased with what she has learned about ODS thus far.
“I’ve been really impressed by the time and effort the office puts in to helping students,” she said. “They’re doing a really good job with the facilities and personnel — it’s a small office — that they have.”
Eisgruber did not comment on the current progress of the committee’s assessments, but Schwarzbauer said they had compiled surveys for many different groups on campus. “We’ve done a lot of collecting of information and trying to understand — or get the whole committee on the same level in understanding — disabilities and how the office works at Princeton,” she said.
“We’re also having some experts come in to talk to us about various bits of testing modalities and different ways to evaluate disabilities and accommodations,” Schwarzbauer added. She said these outside experts are expected to meet with the committee in the next few weeks.
The committee expects to issue a draft of its official report by the end of January.