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Roger N. Meyer "...of a different mind "
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SUMMARY OF PSU ADA CONCERNS

6 May 1999 Revised December 21, 2001

With Updated Introduction, April 18, 2005

Issues and Contacts

 

 

     [This report was submitted to a student who claimed she had influence with the president of Portland State University in addressing some basic accessibility and known, historically unsatisfactory handling of disabled students issues.  This report proved "too hot to handle", and as a consequence, was re-submitted to the Oregon Advocacy Center (OAC), Oregon's Protection and Advocacy service, which had opened a file on Portland State University's problems with ADA, generally, and with disabled students, in particular.  For its own reasons, OAC decided not to pursue the case.  To a very large extent, those same issues remain unaddressed today, mid-April, 2005]

 

To: Ann Cohen

Student Federal Affairs Director

Portland State University

Student Government Room 340E

Smith Memorial Center Portland State

University PO Box 751 Portland, OR  97207

 

From:  Roger N. Meyer

 

     The following is a record of my contacts and observations relating to Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 concerns at Portland State University.

 

Disabled Students Services Office

 

     In late November 1998, I walked into the Disabled Students Services office in Smith Memorial to ask about the breadth of ADA-related services available to PSU students.  I had just completed a successful in-service presentation to the entire staff of the Disabled Students Office at Portland Community College.  I was curious to see if the PSU staff would have interest in a presentation on Asperger Syndrome as a learning disability.  While there I spoke with Mikey McKillip, the permanent staff person for the office, and the senior employee.  He informed me that Lisa Brown, the newDirector, had just been hired and had started a short while ago.  As the senior staff person, he was acting as her guide and amanuensis, familiarizing her with the routine and procedures of the office.  He suggested that I make an appointment to see Ms. Brown, and one was set for a formal 45 minute to one-hour visit on the 8th of December.

 

    I arrived promptly at the appointed time on the 8th, and was greeted by Mikey.  He said Ms. Brown was waiting for me in her office, and that he would be joining us.  As I began my interview and presentation with Ms. Brown, I looked forward to his arrival.  In our previous conversations, he appeared to be a key player in that office.  In the middle of the time-slot, he showed up for a disinterested five minutes and then as quickly disappeared for the rest of my visit with the Disabled Student Service Office director.

 

     As I spoke with Ms. Brown, she appeared defensive and somewhat ill at ease.  She asked the reason for my visit.  It was apparent that Mr. McKillip had not prepared her for my appearance.  I brought with me a small collection of basic literature in the field of Asperger Syndrome as it affects adult students and adult workers.  Although I didn't expect any of the material to be read while I spoke with her, she appeared singularly disinteresting in learning about the disability, or the way in which students with the disability may present their manifestations in a college setting.  It seemed as though she was waiting for me to name some kind of a "bottom line."  Of course, I came as a service to her and to her office; I had none.  Her frequent glances at her wristwatch and mentioning several times during the appointment that she had much work to do left me with the distinct impression that my visit was somehow ill-timed and whatever level of concentration she could supply during it was thin and subject to easy distraction.

 

     Rather than explore any particular issue since I knew she was just settling into her role as Director, I inquired of her about the services which a student new to the campus, but with a disability, could expect when visiting the office.  She informed me that the counselor staff consists almost exclusively of part-time students with training or education in the counseling and disability services field.  In response to my general inquiry about their level of knowledge or experience with cognitive disorders or specific learning disabilities, she appeared not to know the level of her own staff's competence or the extent of their interest in their own student clients.

 

     As a disabled person myself, I am familiar with some of the basic entry-level questions which most persons with a disability ask of service providers.  I was especially surprised that Ms. Brown indicated, with considerable assurance that students with disabilities would not be served at all by the office unless they first arrived bearing medical documentation of their disability.  This is an outright violation of the ADA, which states that the disabled person's statement of his or her disability is to be accepted as a given, and that information concerning services or ADA protections in public facilities need not be dependent upon the proffering of any formal documentation by the inquirer.  If this was the policy of her office, I could see that it could deter all but the best-prepared, self-determined disabled new student.

 

    Prior to my visit, I had heard that the Disabled Student Service Office was not well regarded by many students.  I was given to understand that rather than face a general atmosphere of benign disinterest, students prefer not to disclose their disability for the purpose of recognition as a potential client of this student service office.  With this kind of a "welcome" and my general treatment as an outsider bearing nothing but information and good will, I could only conclude that my concerns about chaos and ineptitude as prime characteristics of that office, supported by previous information from others that I gathered prior to my visit with her, were correct.

 

     During the balance of the visit to the campus I spent most of my time determining just what services ARE available to disabled students, providing that the student passes the "gate-keeping test."  Ms. Brown had listed readers, special extended time and separate test rooms, and accessibility information for the mobility impaired.  She did not mention any assistive technology or other options that a disabled student, other than a person visibly handicapped, would feel inclined to explore further.  Upon leaving the campus that day, I had every reason to believe that the Director of this office knew very little about adult learning disabilities.  Unless I had caught her on a particularly bad hair day, it didn't appear as though she was much interested in finding out about them.

 

     I made brief inquiries of students in the hallway--non-disabled students--about other assistance available to disabled students on the campus.  Several of them mentioned the assistive technology evaluation center at Millar Library, staffed by a TALN AT evaluator, Phyllis Pettys.  Other inquiries of the student newspaper staff at the PSU Vanguard resulted in copies of a recent front-page article on problems with wheelchair accessibility at many PSU building entrances and interior spaces.  The senior student staff person in the office offered to arrange an interview with the student journalist who had written that article.  He suggested that the student journalist might be interested in writing a follow-up article on students with invisible disabilities.

 

     By the time I left the campus that day, I had concluded that for the "average" student with disabilities, this facility offered de minimus service from unqualified part-time student intern staff.  Further, there appeared to be an official practice, if not policy, of showing no interest in new information regarding disabled students' challenges other than "academic ones."  It is well known that disabled students often face a host of non-academic barriers and challenges directly attributable to their status or particular condition.  The official "line" appeared to be that the campus offered a "one size fits all" approach--a very mechanical one at that--and that there was little inclination to expand its services to meet the needs of its disabled student population, especially those students with hidden disabilities.

 

     This revelation was all the more shocking because Portland State University spends a great deal of public relations money and time to represent itself as friendly to its metropolitan host community, and desirous of good relationships with services and community resources in Portland and all of the Northwest region.  Many of its graduate students in the human services spend their internships in community and government agencies as unpaid labor, a convenient arrangement for the agencies, and a good training experience for the students.  I hoped that the students benefited by their internships as much as the agencies did from such unpaid labor.  This cozy arrangement exists with most universities and their surrounding communities.  The question that rattled around in the back of my mind was what additional impression did the University make upon the community its students were being trained to serve?  In this case, this would be the high number of disabled persons that a major metropolitan area in an otherwise poor and resource starved rural state has attracted.

 

     I was left with the impression that the Disabled Students Service Office views the student experience, like the rest of the campus it represents, as a sink-or-swim experience.  At the close of our visit, Ms. Brown bemoaned the fact that her office could do little for disabled students because it had such a small budget.  I asked her whether the budget was dependent upon use-incidence figures, and she answered in the affirmative.  Surely, an office dependent upon a budget driven by frequency-of-use figures would be interested in increasing its consumer base, rather than discouraging consumer visits.  Certainly if the office and its policies actively discourage student use, disabled students will remain ill served and underserved by design.

 

"Sink or Swim"

The PSU Psychic and the Physical Environment

 

     This "tough guy" approach at a state university commuter campus is especially puzzling.  Maybe it's a philosophy that has followed the Univesity's insecurity about just exactly what kind of institution of higher learning it is.  Its dogmatic approach to student success or failure may be an effort to prove that it is a more challenging school than its nearest competition in size, the University of Oregon 100 miles down Interstate I-5.  Tough it may be.  But for whom, and at what cost?  "Spartan" may be a more fitting description.  There is no dormitory community of any size for its PSU's student enrollment, and little opportunity for graduate students and certificate program students to meet in places set aside to assure the nurturing of an academic community among students, faculty, and staff.  To the outsider used to a different kind of urban university--the University of Minnesota Minneapolis and St. Paul campuses from which I graduated thirty-seven years ago--it is more clearly "a place of business" rather than a place whose primary "business" is education or the finishing experience for young adults in preparation for mature adult life.  Campuses can be big.  They needn't make an art of being inhospitable.  Indeed, through its succession of Presidents, at PSU "education" is viewed very much by it's "managers" as a rather crude type of business environment with little latitude built in for "venture capital startups" and "initial public offerings,"my choice of metaphors for disabled students who would benefit from a supportive community that encourages the taking of risks and provides opportunities for "gentle" insertion into the academic milieu of a large urban campus rather than a "deep-end" plunge.

 

     The bottom line for disabled students is that if presently offered accommodations don't work for whatever reason, the student is left to flounder, fail, and eventually drop out.

 

     It may be a telling signal of the provenance of Portland State University that its initial buildings were a public high school and several aging service buildings at the University's start up in the post World War II late 1940's.  The campus has since then grown like Topsy, but with no sense of an architectural soul or central design, and certainly none of the gratuitous academic community amenities one often finds cobbled together in large urban universities elsewhere in the United States.  Whatever warmth exists at the campus architecture and spaces within seems to have developed by the complete accident attendant to human nesting instincts rather than deliberate design.  Of course, with all due respect to Oregon's generally poor taste in institutional architecture, this campus is no different than the majority of the state's public institutions.  It is no thing of beauty.  In fact, by almost any standard of judgment, the campus is downright ugly.  Like any institution that lacks gravitas and a humble statuture that fails to attract or keep high quality faculty, PSU is ugly in a number of subtle as well as profound ways.

 

     "Ugly," it turns out, in its attitude towards disabilities and persons with them.

 

Testing and Counseling

 

     On the same afternoon of my visit to the Disabled Student Service Office, I went upstairs to the second floor mezzanine of Smith Memorial Union to find out about student testing and counseling services.  As I arrived without an appointment, I asked to speak with anyone who could tell me about the services of the office.  (It is common for students to "drop by" without appointments to many offices and departments.  I was merely following a not-unexpected practice.)  I asked a staff person what the requirements were for students wishing to use testing and counseling services.  The staffer told me that the student must be enrolled on a full-time basis to avail him/herself of cost-free or reduced-cost testing and counseling.  Knowing that many disabled students are unable to handle a full time schedule, and thus are "part timers," I asked whether an allowance or exception is made for students who, due to their disability, are unable to enroll for full-time status.  Knowing as well that many disabled students have severely limited budgets, I was surprised at the mention of very hefty costs for testing and the paucity of counseling because they weren't "full-time students."  The staffer indicated that the policy barring access to less than full time students, or requiring additional fees of part-time students, was not waivable.

 

     This policy, assuring disabled student inaccessibility or extra cost for the very services which may be of benefit to them seemed odd at the time I encountered it.  I believe it to be a violation of the intent and purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and a further violation of the anti-discrimination and disparate treatment provisions of Section 504 of the Vocational Rehabilitation Act of 1973 as they apply to public institutions and places of public accommodation.

 

     Quite aside from the issue of discrimination, it is not uncommon for a student to arrive at a post-secondary institution unaware of some aspects of a hidden disability that impacts the student's ability to function efficiently.  This is especially the case with students with reading or expressive language difficulties, and for others with "bad study habits."  For many students with a diagnosis of specific learning disabilities, executive function challenges go hand in hand with the diagnosis.

 

     As a consequence of social promotion or careless mis-identification or no identification in K-12, quite a few students with non-verbal learning disabilities and other specific learning disabilities arrive at college undiagnosed, and thus unprepared for the rigors of this level of education.  If a student who knows he has "something wrong with him" takes the road of easing into the educational experience by taking less than the minimal full load of classes, testing that would identify specific learning disabilities is thus either closed or made prohibitively expensive just at the point where this type of information would be of greatest benefit to the student.

 

      Having a student drop out of college for any reason is also expensive for the school.

 

     Needless to say, self-knowledge derived from good testing and counseling often spells the difference between staying in school--retention--and dropping out.  Longitudinal studies conducted with disabled students first identified in K-12 consistently demonstrate that once disabled students with all types of challenges drop out of college their first time, it is harder for them to stay the course on successive tries.  For students with low esteem for any number of reasons other than disability, the same information applies to drop out and success figures for degree attainment at re-entry.  For non-disabled students, dropping away from college may provide the person with additional opportunities for further maturing before trying college again.  Counseling may or may not be beneficial for such students.  For disabled students still in school, counseling or the absence of counseling and evaluation may be a pivotal factor to the probability that they will stay in school or that they might embark on a path of repeated attempts at advanced education followed by increasingly dramatic failure.  It isn't unusual for persons who are bright or highly motivated but clueless as to their real learning disabilities to continue this pattern long into adult maturity.

 

The Campus Ombudsman

     Portland State University has an Ombudsman.  On the afternoon of December 8, I had some open time and following the visit to the testing and counseling office, had some additional concerns.  I walked into the office of the Ombudsman, Mr. John Wanjala.  He was kind enough to receive me without an appointment and allow me to express my concerns.  He indicated that where concerns over discrimination or inadequate services have been raised with him in the past, it has been possible to arrange a meeting between the party and either the department head, the person responsible for the issue, or make other arrangements to lay the issues to rest.  I proposed that he use his good offices to arrange a meeting between myself and the Director of the Student Services Office, Mr. Dan Fortmiller.  I felt that a moderated three-way conversation would impress Mr. Fortmiller of the seriousness of my concerns.  By this time, I saw the issues I encountered as extending beyond the mere concerns of matriculated, disabled students at PSU.  I felt with respect to disability matters in general that the University most definitely had an "image problem" warranting more than a casual chat.  I had encountered issues of a University-wide policy nature, and hoped that Mr. Wanjala would provide a moderating influence in my discussions with Mr. Fortmiller.

 

     The following day, the Ombudsman called to suggest that matters might be more efficaciously handled in direct conversation between myself and Mr. Fortmiller.  This was the end of the academic quarter, and despite the seriousness of the issues I had raised, I agreed to defer discussion over the winter holiday break.  I called Mr. Fortmiller who informed me that he wouldn't be available until the third week of January, and an appointment was set to meet with him on Wednesday, January 20th, just before noon.  The appointment was for a half hour.

 

     By having prepared the way for my appointment, the Ombudsman bowed out.  Obviously, this was a hot potato.  I didn't realize at the time that this was a serious mistake.  Of course, tactically it made sense.  Strategically, for the long haul, and for the "big picture," while this was a good decision personally for Mr. Wanjala, it did nothing to address what I later discovered to be a systemic pattern of denial of any problems with disability issues within the University.  Whether the Ombudsman had become an unwitting participant in the University's deflection and non-interest in disability issues is not for me to say.  Nevertheless, I would caution any student or any member of the public to not allow the Ombudsman to "slip away" in such a manner were the matter to arise again.

 

Problems with the Disabled Students Advocacy System at Portland State University

Contact with Jennifer Lopez Disabled Student Union Co-Coordinator

 

     On December 9, the day following the contacts outlined above, I was on the PSU campus for another appointment and dropped by the Office of the Disabled Student Union on the fourth floor of Smith Memorial Union.  This was indeed a stroke of luck.  Someone was in the office.  I spoke briefly with Jennifer Lopez, a graduate student for whom the position of co-coordinator seemed somewhat of a burden.  In fact, it proved so much of a burden that at the first opportunity for the opening of a work-study or internship position, Ms. Lopez disappeared from the scene altogether.  This happened soon after our brief conversation.  Her co-coordinator seemed never to be available.

 

     In my brief conversation with Ms. Lopez prior to fall quarter final examinations, the student advocate listened with interest as I described what I had found so far, and my proposal for pursuing an inquiry about ADA and accessibility issues at PSU.  I mentioned to her that I was in contact with the ADA Program Coordinator at the Independent Living Resources Center.  There appeared to be numerous disabled rights compliance issues coming to light.  I proposed that she might consider making some of her disabled student colleagues available for a further investigation of these issues.  While suggesting nothing specific, I left her with the impression that she might be contacted by the ILR program coordinator if a formal investigation was being considered.  What had been a sense of interest suddenly turned to something else.  Her eyes dimmed somewhat, and taking the cue, I suggested that there would be nothing public nor too "involving" for some time to come.  I left wondering whether she or her colleague would be competent advocates, even to the extent of participating in a fact-finding process without skullduggery.

 

     No problem.  She was gone by the time I returned to Smith Memorial five weeks later for my visit with Mr. Fortmiller.  She had found an internship.  No one had replaced her.  To my knowledge throughout the winter semester, 1999 no one did.

 

     Prior to writing this report, I learned that filling the office with volunteer student disabled advocates has never been successful, at least from the vantage point of those most interested in having an effective advocate at their side.  Volunteer leaders come and go with dizzying frequency, so much so that office hours, a sympathetic ear, even the fact of there being "lights on" are more appearance than reality.  To a large extent, these are student positions occupied at the sufferance of the University administration through its system of recognized and rewarded "favorites" on the Student Government gravy train.  The amount of money involved is a pittance, but embossed business cards with a PSU logo, official-sounding title, prepared name tags at public events, and small stipends and scholarships to attend various functions assure a steady stream of volunteers.

 

     This system also assures a level of sycophancy by the "holders" of these offices that would embarrass the average middle school student government faculty advisor.

 

     From anecdotal reports of disabled students who have passed through PSU for many years before and after my visit, the role of disabled student advocate appears to have never been taken seriously.  The moment it has, "somehow" the successful advocate finds himself/herself the object of some offer that cannot be refused.

 

     Such offers rarely are.

 

     Subsequent visits over the next four months, unannounced, and even visits made at times when the office was posted as "open" yielded "no-shows."  An office putatively set up by the PSU Student Government and maintained with student fees funds to serve the advocacy interests of disabled students appeared to be less than fully accessible.  Visits made long since the date of this report have proven similarly disappointing.

 

     To put things in context both literally and figuratively, "there is no-one home."

 

     There never has been.

 

Independent Living Resources Center and Interest in an ADA Complaint

 

     On December 20, I met with the Portland Independent Living Resources ADA program coordinator, Denise Spielman.  At the conclusion of our meeting, we both met briefly with ILR's program director, Chuck Davis.  Mr. Davis holds an MSW degree from the Portland State University Graduate School of Social Work, and during his student days was a Disabled Students Union Coordinator.  I learned this only after met with him.  He was also Ms. Spielman's boss.

 

     He was familiar with all of the issues at PSU.  During his time as a graduate student, he experienced similar responses from the Disabled Student Services Office.  Students who were clearly in need of service, and who otherwise would have warranted accommodations purposely avoided that office, and encouraged their fellow students to do the same.  Students with disabilities had learned from their fellow students that the Disabled Student Service Office appeared to be in constant chaos with rapid turnover of part-time student staff, and a sense of "no one minding the store."  His experience extended to the early 1990's, and he assured us that matters never appeared to improve since his graduation.

 

     Mr. Davis, Ms. Spielman and I met to map out a plan.  A major element entailed Ms. Spielman's discrete inquiry of several levels of policy managers and program directors at the University.  I was to await the result of her inquiry before I took the matter further with the Disabled Student Union co-coordinators.  At our meeting, Mr. Davis said that he knew a number of student-age persons ready for further education at PSU, and proposed having several of them contact the Disabled Student Services Office to report back what a "test" contact would reveal.  However, following the meeting, Ms. Spielman did not make the calls, and no ILR follow up ensued.

 

     [In her handwritten notes on the original printed version of this report, Ms. Spielman explains what led to "no action."  Ms. Spielman had been hired during the summer of 1998 as the ILR ADA Program Coordinator.  "Roger, as you know, when I was first at ILR, I was told about being an advocate.  It was several months later when I learned that I was not to initiate contact.  Because of that inability to pursue this issue, I'm all the more grateful that you can and do work as an advocate!"

 

     During the latter part of 2001, the Oregon Advocacy Center, the federal Protection and Advocacy agency for the State of Oregon, began an investigation of ADA compliance issues at Portland State University.  Because this report was submitted under separate cover to Ms. Spielman as the ADA Program Coordinator at ILR, she returned the hard copy original to me for forwarding to the OAC attorney coordinating this effort.

 

     In a separate note accompanying the original to this revised report, Ms. Spielman writes the following: "Roger -- have at it!  Hope something positive can come out of pursuing these issues for students with disabilities.  OAC should be happy to add this to their file D."]

 

     By the time I met with Mr. Fortmiller several weeks later in January 1999, I was convinced that the ADA situation at Portland State University was in need of a formal inquiry and correction.  I discovered in mid-February that no ILR action had yet occurred, and contacted Ms. Lopez with my apologies.  I never heard back from her.  I learned later she had gone on to a paid internship and had left the office without a replacement.

 

     I was a consumer at ILR at the time.  It did not occur to me then that management of the primary disability service center in Portland, ILR, would instruct its ADA Program Coordinator, the person most familiar with the Act and the politics of negotiating compliance agreements, not to be an advocate.  It is my understanding that with such a management curtailment of her responsibilities of her duties, ILR materially failed to fill one of its four core responsibilities under the federal Rehabilitation Services Administration Act to advocate on behalf of disabled persons.  In my original report, I was under the mistaken belief that the ADA Program Coordinator was a compliance office.  In another hand written note in the margin of the report she mailed to me, Ms. Spielman says, "There is no such thing as a compliance officer for the ADA, unfortunately."

 

     In light of Mr. Davis' comments in December that he was aware of several disabled students who could field-test the Disabled Student Services Office with some guidance from him, the failure of the one agency publicly identified as the service and advocacy center to pursue either an investigation or active advocacy on behalf of even one of its current or former clients is, frankly, astounding and, to say the least, very disappointing.

 

     [As of the date of this revised report [late December, 2001], the capacity of the Independent Living Resources Center to actively advocate in such a manner as suggested above has ended with the firing of all staff with any disability advocacy competence and experience.  Ms. Spielman left ILR for a technical assistance position at the beginning of October 2001 prior to a wholesale "Halloween Eve Massacre" termination and forced resignations of a number of its long-time staff.  Ms. Spielman now works as a technical support specialist with a Northwest regional ADA technical support program at Oregon Health Sciences University under the overall direction of the OHSU University Affiliated Program.]

 

Meeting with Dan Fortmiller, Director Office of Student Services, PSU

 

     On Wednesday, January 20, I met with Mr. Fortmiller.  In anticipation of our half hour together, I had prepared a list of questions.  My principal concerns centered on what appeared to be a systemic lack of compliance or interest in ADA issues on campus.

 

     Mr. Fortmiller began by saying that the Disabled Student Service Office had seen several directors within the past three years, and he hoped that with Ms. Brown's hire, the situation would stabilize.  I asked him whether he was aware of the level of staff competence in that office.  In direct response to that question, he said, "No."  He stated that he was generally aware that having part-time students in role as peer counselors in an office with no firm core of administrative direction and policy continuity made for a bad situation.  I asked him whether as Ms. Brown's supervisor he had inquired about her plans to conduct regular staff ADA trainings.  He assured me that this was a matter that would be addressed in the future.  Ms. Brown was hired, he added, because that was an area of demonstrated strength from her previous position.  He acknowledged that due to the erratic, short-term occupancy of Ms. Brown's office in the past that no consistency and policy course had been set by that office or by himself, acting as a stop-gap administrator.  It was clear from his discussion with me that the most prevalent means of management for that office and perhaps for his own overarching responsibility over a number of student service offices was "Management by Crisis."  Certainly, in the case of the Disabled Student Service Office, that had been the case over the past three years, and appeared so even now.  As we talked, it became clear to me that Mr. Fortmiller was far more interested in distancing himself from responsibilities left unaddressed in offices over which he was a supervisor.  With his general attitude and failure to provide factual answers to basic questions about the Disabled Student Service Office, it was clear that during any vacancies or management absences in that office that he never directly took charge of a program known to have gross management oversight deficiencies, even to the extent of providing general oversight and guidance to the one senior paid staff person who had lasted through numerous Director comings and goings.

 

     I asked Mr. Fortmiller whether there was an ADA compliance and information program in place for the orientation of new hires to staff and faculty at the University, as well as brush-up orientations for existing employees.  He said he was unaware of one, but hoped that Ms. Brown would soon remedy the situation.  I asked whether he was aware of the testing and counseling office policy directives relating to availability and costs of testing for students in a less than full-enrollment status.  By his general evasiveness and disinterest, he indicated that he couldn't see a direct connection between the disabled student population and the need for substantively equal access to those services, given their special needs and the nature of their disabling condition.  He said that this was a policy issue not immediately within his area of supervision, but that I was raising some interesting questions.

 

     During this interview, it became obvious to me that indeed no one was "minding the store."  If the hiring authority for the Disabled Student Service Office Director was so unaware of the parameter of services that could be potentially offered by that office, let alone what was actually being offered, he still was leaving administration of that office open to the influence and day to day direction by the lowest common denominators in that office--part-time student intern peer counselors, several of whom had outlasted more than one Director.  Even with their director's rapid comings and goings, through the staff there was more continuity of policy and procedures instituted through practice at the lowest level of service than through any short-term ministrations of their own supervisor(s).

 

      Administration by inertia and policy leadership by empty chair is not my idea of what it takes to have a competently supervised disabled student services program.  I doubt such a management model would find acceptance in agency, let alone one where its consumers are among the most vulnerable of the University's students.

 

     I am particularly alarmed by this situation as a resident of the Portland community.  In my role as a person-centered planner, transitions counselor and disability advocate, I would like to know that the only major public metropolitan degree granting institution of higher learning is receptive to the growing number of increasingly able and independently living disabled persons within our midst.

 

     My concern about Portland State University is all the greater once I realized that many of its disabled students come from local community colleges and other two year institutions where the quality of disabled student service support is vastly superior to their much larger relative, PSU.  On the one hand, the community colleges and feeder institutions prepare their disabled students for full independence with accommodations and appropriate access and assistive technology.  On the other, disabled student counselors at those feeder institutions see the receiving institution--PSU--ignoring student needs, providing clear signals that it is only a "sink or swim" environment that offers no support and providing no program of faculty and staff education and sensitivity to disabilities and to the different learning styles and reasonable accommodations and educational alternatives possible for an increasingly diverse student body.

 

December 21, 2001

 

Roger N. Meyer

Disability Advocacy, Case Management and Person-Centered Planning

 

 

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