Faculty response to DOJ online access response

On September 13, 2016, Vice Chancellor for Undergraduate Education Cathy Koshland wrote a problematic response to the DOJ’s findings and conclusions (PDF) that the university was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act in how it managed its online course offerings (MOOCs) as well streamed lecture content.

Many Berkeley faculty members were very concerned with the tone and content of VC Koshland’s response and wrote the attached open letter in response (full text also provided at end of this post):

20160921-koshland-final

20160921-koshland-additional-signatories

We welcome additional signatories to the letter. Please e-mail knak@berkeley.edu if you wish to sign in support. Please include your full name and university title.

Update (2016.09.22 15:54): The FCDR has signed on as a signatory to the faculty letter.


 

Text of letter follows.

September 22, 2016

 

Dear Vice Chancellor Koshland:

 

As faculty at the University of California Berkeley, we are concerned about and disappointed with both the tone and content of your published response to the Department of Justice’s Findings and Conclusions as to how the university’s online course offerings violate the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. It is hurtful and harmful to suggest in any way that people with disabilities are responsible for a decision that might limit online courses and other presentations. This kind of scare tactic creates hostility toward accommodating and therefore including people with disabilities.  While we assume that you did not intend to blow a dog whistle that incites disability access backlash, we fear that this has been the result, which not only harms our students and the public who have disabilities but also the University’s national and international reputation.[1]

 

We suggest that U.C. Berkeley take the recently announced approach of Ford Foundation President Darren Walker, who wrote a public letter acknowledging the omission of disability in developing his foundation’s agenda.  Rather than becoming defensive, Mr. Walker admitted that in “the 18 months that we meticulously crafted FordForward—an extensive, exhaustive process—we did not meaningfully consider people with disabilities in our broader conversations about inequality.”   After apologizing for this omission, Mr. Walker went on, “… So how do we do this? How do we move from unwitting ignorance to enlightened action?”[2] This is the approach we would have expected of our University.  How do we do better?

 

UC Berkeley has a long and proud history as a global leader in disability rights, education, and research. As a result, we have a tremendous wealth of knowledge and resources on how to make education accessible. We have ourselves come up with policies that mandate access across the university. As far as we can ascertain, you did not tap any of the faculty or staff with expertise in the area of education and online access (we are thinking, for instance, of the knowledge that Lucy Greco in the ATTLC would have brought to the table), before issuing a press release which threatens limiting public access because of the purported costs of disability access.  It is worth noting that “public,” in this instance, excludes millions of people with disabilities, including our own students with disabilities who use these resources.  Moreover, your statement presents disability accommodations as the cause of a zero sum game. We know that making courses accessible means that all students and learners benefit, disabled or not.

 

The DOJ letter is an opportunity for us to acknowledge that we can do better.  We must comply with the law, but rather than being defensive and operating from a place of fear, we can be constructive and work towards our mission of public education.

 

We call on the administration to break out of its insularity and consult the deep well of knowledge and expertise that is already on this campus. We ask for an immediate meeting of administrators, faculty, staff, and students with knowledge and expertise in this area to work on constructive solutions to the problems that the DOJ letter has so clearly spelled out.

 

 

Sincerely yours,

 

Karen Nakamura
Robert and Colleen Haas Distinguished Chair in Disability Studies and Professor of Anthropology

Susan Schweik
Professor of English

Arlene Mayerson
John and Elizabeth Boalt Lecturer in Law

Georgina Kleege
Lecturer in English

Charlotte Smith
Lecturer in Public Health

Marsha Saxton
Lecturer in Disability Studies

Claudia Center
Lecturer in Law

 

Additional UC Berkeley signatories following the publishing of the open letter

 Mel Chen
Associate Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and Vice Chair for Research; Director, Center for the Study of Sexual Culture

Katherine Sherwood
Professor of Art Practice and Disability Studies

Alastair Iles
Associate Professor of Environmental Policy and Societal Change

 

UCB Organizations signing in support of this letter

Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights

Berkeley Disabled Students

 

 

Updated 9/22/16 3:40 PM

[1] I.e., your language that “[we] must strongly consider the unenviable option of whether to remove content from public access,” has already been quoted in media, see Forbes article titled “Department of Justice Wages War on Free Education” (2016.09.21).

[2] https://www.fordfoundation.org/ideas/equals-change-blog/posts/ignorance-is-the-enemy-within-on-the-power-of-our-privilege-and-the-privilege-of-our-power/

Join us for the first public meeting of the Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights (FCDR)

When: Thursday May 5, 2016, 10:00-noon
Where: 330 Wheeler Hall, The English Department Lounge
Guest Speaker: Larry Paradis, co-founder of Disability Rights Advocates in Berkeley, CA.

A newly formed organization on the UC Berkeley campus, the Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights (FCDR) now has over fifty members. This meeting will give us an opportunity to become acquainted and share our concerns about the state of disability rights at UC Berkeley. Prospective members welcome!

At the meeting:

  • FCDR officers will describe our founding and previous actions.
  • Larry Paradis, co-founder of Disability Rights Advocates, will give a legal perspective on Berkeley’s progress in achieving a campus environment that respects the rights of people with disabilities, including a status update on key Berkeley disability litigation, such as the student-generated Gustafson class action suit.
  • Our members will share current concerns and future goals.

We look forward to seeing you. If you have questions or need any disability accommodations in order to attend, including communication services, please contact ucbdisabilityrights@gmail.com.

Chancellor Dirks’ replies to letter from FCDR and DSU – after a 3-1/2 month delay

Chancellor Dirks’ response letter, March 29, 2016:

Nicholas B. Dirks, Chancellor
Professor of History Professor of Anthropology

Dear members of the FCDR, DSU, and SAO,

Thank you for your thoughtful letter of December 9th sharing the detailed feedback on the current challenges and status of services from students with disabilities. It is clearly the result of highly coordinated and collaborative efforts of dedicated students, faculty, and staff.

As is customary, I designated a senior member of my administration, Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Na’ilah Nasir, to address the concerns raised in the letter. She responded promptly to graduate student and DSU Co-President Matt Griffith, voicing her support for the idea of creating a working group of faculty, students, and staff to evaluate our current disabled student services, with a view to making recommendations for improvement. Vice Chancellor Nasir will continue to take the lead on both the search for the Director of the Disabled Students Program and establishing an evaluative working group. As of this week, the DSP Director search is in progress and interviews are being arranged. Together, our offices are committed to improving the support for students with disabilities and look forward to staying connected on this topic.

The Assistant Provost, Equity Standards and Compliance position is indeed one that requires attention. Earlier this semester we launched the search for the Associate Chancellor, Operations in the Chancellor’s Immediate Office. We expect this position to be filled before the end of the spring semester. This position (with some portfolio similarities to former Associate Chancellor Linda Williams) will provide leadership for Ethics, Risk, and Compliance Services. We made sure that the job description included notation of this position’s leadership for disability compliance. At this time, Interim Chief Ethics, Risk and Compliance Officer and Deputy Associate Chancellor Wanda Ellison Crockett has oversight of the Office of Ethics, Risk, and Compliance Services, and Derek Coates is serving as the Interim Disability Compliance Officer. I will be asking a soon-to-be-named new Associate Chancellor to prioritize an evaluation of the disability compliance needs, including giving attention to the Assistant Provost, Equity Standards and Compliance position. I recognize that your collective bodies hold a lot of relevant knowledge, and will encourage the new Associate Chancellor to rely on your expertise.

Thank you all for your dedication to and advocacy for campus community members with disabilities. Please know that I have received and heard your comments and remain committed to improving disability services.
Do not hesitate to contact me again with further comments
chancellor@berkeley.edu

Sincerely

Nicholas B. Dirks

FCDR’s response on April 12, 2016:

Dear Chancellor Dirks,

Thank you for your letter of March 29, 2016. This was a response to a letter of concern that we (the Disabled Students Union, the Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights, and the Student Advocate’s Office) had sent you on December 9, 2015.

Given the campus commitment to equity, inclusion, and diversity, we are dismayed that a letter from a coalition of faculty and students who represent a protected class under civil rights law would only warrant a formal response from our campus administration after three and a half months. While Vice Chancellor Nasir sent an informal email to one of our signatories on January 26, this was not a formal response to our group letter of December 9, nor did she intend it to be. The person you refer to as “Matt Griffith” is actually Matt Grigorieff, the co­president of the Disabled Students’ Union. The misspelling of his name, the delay in your response, and the absence of an apology for that delay all convey a profound lack of regard for people with disabilities. Most egregious is the fact that your letter was sent in a PDF format that is inaccessible to individuals with visual impairments who use assistive technology.

Beyond the matters of protocol outlined above, the substance of our letter seems to have been largely unaddressed. Our pending concerns include:

  • Your letter mentions that a working group of faculty, staff, and students with disability concerns has been established in consultation with the Disabled Students Union. However the leadership of the DSU has not heard of any committee organized by Vice Chancellor Nasir or the Chancellor’s office for disabled student services for grad students, nor were they contacted.

  • Two important campus leadership positions related to disability are presently, or soon will be, vacant. As we made clear in our last letter, people with disabilities wish to be included in the process of finding replacements. The search for a Permanent Associate Chancellor for Ethics, Risk and Compliance, to replace the Assistant Provost for Equity Standard and Compliance stipulated by the Gustafson Settlement, is underway, however to our knowledge there has been no consultation or involvement of disabled faculty staff or students.

  • It also appears that this senior administrative position is being reconfigured in substantial ways. Have people with disabilities been included and consulted in this administrative redesign process? If so, how? The change in job title indicates a shift in focus (both in spirit and in letter) that may be in violation of the Gustafson Settlement.

  • We also asked that people with disabilities be substantively involved in the search for the Disabled Students Program Director. True inclusion would mean having input on formative discussions about the advertisement, search criteria, and search plan, as well as participating in the selection process. It remains unclear from your letter whether such consultation has happened.

  • A premise of the disability rights movement is “nothing about us without us.” It appears that important matters “about” those of us with disabilities are being decided without including us. Or is there another perspective you would like to bring forward?

  • Our letter focuses on the concerns of both students and faculty with disabilities, yet your letter only addresses students. We would like to hear about the administration’s commitment to making Berkeley a more hospitable place for faculty with disabilities as well.

  • We have urged the administration to incorporate accessibility into all facets of strategic planning. There are many new strategic initiatives presently being launched on our campus. How is accessibility being incorporated into these plans?

  • The Disabled Students Union and FCDR would like the campus to organize a task force / campus review committee on disability for UC Berkeley as a whole (including academics, accommodations, wellness and fitness, social inclusion, staff, etc.). In the 2013 campus climate survey, people with disabilities are identified as one of the historically marginalized groups that report elevated experiences of exclusion on our campus. While 25% of the general population experiences exclusion, this figure among people with disabilities rises to 39%. This places people with disabilities in proximity to the survey’s findings on African Americans (42% of whom experience exclusion) and Chicano/Latinos (34%). The campus has launched the African American Initiative and the Chicano/Latino Task Force in order to address the findings of the campus climate survey. It’s time for a Task Force on People with Disabilities.

Overall we assert that the campus must move beyond a narrow, legalistic, and often symbolic “compliance” framework that forces people with disabilities to complain, grieve, or file a lawsuit in order to gain full access to our institution and educational programs. This doesn’t create a welcoming climate for people with disabilities. We need to adopt instead a more holistic and proactive approach that exemplifies true inclusion and equity. The Americans with Disabilities Act establishes the “floor” of bare minimum access not the “ceiling.” Berkeley needs to aim higher than the floor. Accessibility always works best when it is planned from the outset rather than added on later as an afterthought or a work­around. The complaint­based system that exists
now requires disabled faculty, staff and students to devote time and effort to access issues—time that would be better spent on teaching, learning, research and service. We would like to hear your response to this core recommendation, which is the most foundational of all the issues we have raised.

We appreciate that your letter indicates you have heard our concerns. However we do not yet see evidence that the content of our letter actually has been heard. We would very much like things to be otherwise. It’s not too late to start anew. While the 2013 campus climate survey found that a chief barrier to campus achievement of equity, diversity and inclusion objectives is that “top administrators aren’t committed to promoting respect and understanding,” we invite you to lead our campus in a new direction, one that will achieve Berkeley’s stated goals of “access and excellence.” When people with disabilities are given access to the campus—to our classrooms, our departments, our governance and decision­making—they can and do contribute much to Berkeley’s excellence. Including us in decisions about us is the very best way for campus leadership to promote a culture of respect and understanding for people with disabilities.

Sincerely,

Disabled Students Union at Cal (DSU)
Matt Grigorieff, Co-President
Peter Dodson, Co-President
Alisha Howell, Co-Vice President
Nidhi Chandra, Co-Vice President

Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights at UC Berkeley (FCDR)

Catherine Cole, President
Chair and Professor, Theater, Dance and Performance Studies

Katherine Sherwood, Vice President
Professor, Art Practice

Georgina Kleege, Secretary
Lecturer SOE, English

Charlotte Smith, Treasurer
Lecturer, School of Public Health

Karen Nakamura, Member-at-Large
Endowed Chair, Disability Studies Research Cluster, Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society

Susan Schweik, Member-at-Large
Professor, English

ASUC Student Advocate’s Office (SAO)
Selina Jane Lao, Chief of Staff
Nidhi Chandra, Caseworker

Original Letters:

Chancellor Dirks’ response letter (pdf)

Follow-up regarding disability concerns (pdf)

Daily Californian: Students with disabilities battle inaccessibility and isolation

As a mechanical engineering student, Drew McPherson came to UC Berkeley expecting complex problems, but navigating Cory Hall wasn’t one of them.

Cory Hall sits at the northeastern corner of campus, near Hearst Mining Circle. The area is the campus’s engineering hub — a labyrinth of stairs and hidden elevators built on a steep gradient. But campus modifications that help most students can instead set up new obstacles for McPherson, who uses a motorized wheelchair.

On a recent rainy day, he tried to get into the elevator in the Cory basement through a back entrance, near the building’s juncture with Davis and Sutardja Dai halls. No luck — the basement was locked because of construction. Flyers taped to the doors mapped out an alternate route.

The locked basement meant rerouting to a different elevator, going back past the long line of trash bins and taking a narrow balcony path before finally entering Cory. Then, encountering a delay when the first elevator to come up is packed with people…

Read the full article on the Daily Californian.

FCDR partners with the Disabled Students Union and the Student Advocate’s Office to lobby UC Berkeley administration on improved access services

December 9, 2015

Dear Chancellor Dirks,

In 2005, Disability Rights Advocates reached a class action settlement with the University of California, Berkeley that was intended to result in comprehensive access improvements at U.C. Berkeley. The plaintiffs were a class of all students with mobility and/or vision disabilities at U.C. Berkeley. The lawsuit, Gustafson v. Regents of the University of California, was originally filed in federal court in 1997. In order to settle the case, the parties involved selected a panel of joint experts. These experts oversaw a comprehensive survey of the campus facilities, reviewed policies and practices that impact access, and interviewed students with disabilities to identify barriers to access. The experts then issued a detailed set of recommendations for physical barrier removal, changes in policies, and other access improvements. A comprehensive settlement agreement was negotiated and the expert recommendations were to be implemented.

As part of the settlement, a new high-level administrative position was created: the Assistant Provost, Office of Equity Standards and Compliance (AP-ESC). The settlement stipulates that the “AP-ESC shall be responsible for providing campus-wide leadership in disability services, including the programmatic removal of physical barriers to Access on the campus and disability-related accommodations, programming and grievance. The AP-ESC’s functions and responsibilities will be predominantly devoted to disability access and compliance. The AP-ESC shall have overall authority and responsibility to ensure that students with disabilities are provided Program Access to UC Berkeley’s programs, services and activities. The University will give the position overall monitoring authority over all Access issues related to policy, programs, equipment selection and environments. This Position will be accountable for internal monitoring of compliance with Access standards and ensuring campus-wide Access.” Further responsibilities for this role are listed in section III.C of the

With this settlement, U.C. Berkeley was on its way to becoming one of the most accessible campuses for students with disabilities in the country. We remain optimistic that the University will embrace its obligation to ensure that students, faculty, and staff with disabilities are fully included in its programs and activities, thus maintaining U.C. Berkeley’s reputation as a leader in access to education.

However, a recent degradation of services for students and faculty with disabilities is cause for alarm. We are especially concerned that the Assistant Provost, Office of Equity Standards and Compliance position is currently vacant, and appears to have been unstaffed for as long as a year – leaving the University out of compliance with the aforementioned settlement agreement. We are also concerned that the Director of the Disabled Students (DSP) Program, Paul Hippolitus, intends to retire soon and yet students, staff, and faculty have heard little about the plans to conduct a search for a suitable candidate to replace him. Without the filling of both positions, the decline in the quality of student, staff, and faculty with disabilities’ lives on campus will continue to steadily decline.

Recently, students with disabilities have reported to peer student advocacy groups on campus (i.e., Disabled Students Union, Berkeley Disabled Students, Student Advocate’s Office, etc.) the following concerns based on their personal experiences:

  • There have been reports of dwindling supports for incoming transfer and non-transfer students with disabilities.
  • Students have been denied or substantially delayed access to the disability accommodation of student course ‘note takers.’
  • Delayed availability of accessible course material (known as alternative media), due to a plethora of reported issues (faculty response time, overwhelmed staff, student confusion regarding the
    process), resulting in a substantial academic disadvantage.

  • Inadequate facilities and space for test proctoring services for students with disabilities, resulting in exams with accommodations taking place far after a request is submitted and/or exams being proctors with subpar accommodations.

  • The hiring process for important DSP Office administrators and staff over the past years have excluded students.
  • Difficulty accessing DSP ‘Disability Specialists’ and services provided by these specialists due to the current ratio of one specialist per about 400 students with disabilities in DSP (or 4 for over 1,600 DSP Students).
  • Loss of DSP Trio peer-to-peer mentor services that enabled students with disabilities to support and consult with one another regarding any difficulties they are experiencing.
  • Poor building infrastructure (i.e., elevators, universal changing / restrooms, accessible water fountains, ramps) that often only meet the ‘bare’ minimum of accessibility compliance guidelines.
  • A need to improve educational accommodation competencies for Graduate Student Instructors (GSIs) that provide exam proctoring and any mandated in-course accommodations for students with disabilities.

The Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights shares the concerns raised by the Disabled Students’ Union and other student organizations. As faculty, we have met with the DSU, with another group of disabled students on campus, and with individual disabled students enrolled in our classes. We have heard many stories that lead us to believe that problems at the DSP have now reached crisis proportions. We feel that a program meant to level the playing field for students with disabilities is now putting barriers in their path that will impair their ability to achieve academically, professional, recreationally, and socially.

As people with disabilities, we have additional concerns about access issues on the Berkeley campus—both in terms of architectural barriers and information technology that does not always meet standards for accessibility. Rather than listing the problems that we have encountered as individuals, we urge the administration to incorporate accessibility into all facets of strategic planning. As it is now, disabled individuals can register a complaint about a particular building or a particular website or online application that is inaccessible, and while that issue may eventually be resolved, it does not guarantee that a similar problem will not arise in a different building or a new online site.

Accessibility always works best when it is in the plans from the outset rather than added on later as an afterthought or a work-around. The complaint-based system that exists now requires disabled faculty to devote time and effort to access issues—time that would be better spent on teaching, research and service. In the past, the AP-ESC has been available to resolve access issues for faculty and staff, so we are concerned that the position is now vacant and we have heard of no plans to hire a replacement. The delays that students experience in receiving their DSP certification and the resulting delay in faculty notification impedes all faculty’s opportunities to reach out to disabled students at the very beginning of the semester. This appears to be a pervasive problem campus-wide that needs to be remedied immediately.

The Disabled Students’ Union (DSU), Student Advocate’s Office (SAO), and the Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights (FCDR) at U.C. Berkeley respectfully request that we be consulted and included in the search process for both the AP- ESC and DSP Director positions. All advocates are ready to assist in this process and are open to discussing the replacement of these two key leadership positions with anyone else the Chancellor deems appropriate. Thank you for your consideration on this important matter. Email contact information is available on the letter’s first page left side column.

Sincerely,

Faculty Coalition for Disability Rights at U. C. Berkeley (FCDR)

Disabled Students Union at Cal (DSU)

ASUC Student Advocate’s Office (SAO)

Disability Concern Letter from Faculty Students and ASUC SAO (PDF)