November 24, 2010
Dr. Mary Cullinan, President
Dr. Alissa Arp, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences
Southern Oregon University
1250 Siskiyou Boulevard
Ashland, Oregon 97520
Dear Drs. Cullinan and Arp,
I have reviewed some of the press coverage of your removal of Eliza Schaaf from her ceramics class and reviewed your letter of October 19, 2010 to Ms. Schaaf. The second paragraph of your letter states that SOU does not offer segregated educational
opportunities to students with intellectual disabilities and that Ms. Schaaf is “not otherwise qualified to meet the academic standards necessary to participate in this course.” You do not site any “academic standards” for auditing the course and your web site does not suggest any such standards for auditing other than “for fun, learn new skills for your job, go on a travel program, and much more!”
One’s expectation of college courses is that professors grade students on their performance after completion of the semester and do not remove them from class for voicing an incorrect answer such as describing the shape of an object as “white.” One’s expectation of colleges is that they offer accommodations, such as note takers and sign interpreters, for students with disabilities and do not consider appropriate accommodations to be disruptive. One would expect that students who are disruptive would be disciplined according to rules of student behavior. Perhaps, at SOU, these expectations are true only for those students who are not labeled as “intellectually disabled.”
Your letter states that the requested accommodation would “entail a fundamental alteration” of the course. For an audited course for which Ms. Schaaf was not requesting a grade and which she was able to attend, it appears, without disruption when accompanied by her mother, it’s not clear how would your educational service be fundamentally altered.
It appears from press accounts and your letter that your motivations are based upon Ms. Schaaf’s disability, rather than any clear standard that is required for students who audit your classes. Even students who have “non-admitted status” do not appear, as judged from your web site, to have to answer all questions in correctly in class and keep their hands off of museum displays in order to avoid expulsion.
In short, as a disability advocate and Oregon citizen, I urge you to reverse your ill-advised decision and to allow Ms. Schaaf to complete her course.
Disability Rights Oregon