Vote delayed on Accommodations Policy

Members of the Academic Senate on Monday delayed a vote regarding the presented draft of the U’s Accommodations Policy until their February meeting.

After discussing procedural and philosophical concerns raised by fellow Senate members regarding the policy, the majority of the body deemed the matter too vital to rush a vote.

Much of the meeting was spent discussing, and ultimately voting down, Senate member Greg Clark’s amendment, which aimed to clarify the intent of the policy and secure academic integrity.

“Can we censor course content because someone finds it offensive? Personal beliefs are very important, but if something is legitimate, you don’t delete it simply on the basis of avoiding conflict,” Clark said.

Clark added that the body’s vote against his amendment was a vote to compromise academic integrity.

“In most cases, [academic integrity and academic freedom] go together, but sometimes they conflict. Here, you can’t do both things, which are legitimate values in and of themselves, perfectly well without compromising the other,” Clark said.

On the one hand, some students might wish for exemption from certain class requirements on account of their deeply held beliefs. On the other hand, professors want to preserve their academic freedom to set requirements they see fit for their students.

The accommodations committee agreed to meet and present proposed amendments to the draft next month.

The Accommodations Policy stemmed from the settlement between Christina Axson-Flynn and the U over the use of profanity in an acting program.

U General Counsel John Morris said the policy would have protected the U in the Axson-Flynn case and should protect the U against future legal battles.

“One of the primary goals of the policy is to provide us with some protection…With the standards we’ve employed here, we think we can defend and can stand up in court,” Morris said.

Accommodations Policy Committee Chairperson Katherine Coles agreed.

“What we’re looking for is a mechanism by which we can get these issues settled, get them settled quickly and get the students, if necessary, into another class right at the very beginning,” she said.

Committee member Ibrahim Karawan said the mechanism by which students can submit accommodations requests will preserve the faculty’s credibility.

“It is important for students to see what we do as legitimate,” he said.

The policy presents potential concerns for students who may run across problems with accommodations in the future, especially in required courses.

“The instructor of any given class is under no obligation to grant content accommodations to any student at all,” Coles said. “The student might find it impractical to drop the class, but that does not in any way put the burden on the instructor to grant an accommodation.”

Coles said the policy will not likely lead to a sudden flood of accommodation requests from students.

“If your faculty are consistently creating syllabi on which the requirements have no reasonable relationship to a legitimate pedagogical goal, you have a way bigger problem on your hands,” Coles said.

Morris said there is little precedence in this matter to which the U can refer in writing a policy.

“Six universities have general language saying accommodations should extend past scheduling and into content,” Morris said. “But there is nothing as developed as what we’re proposing here.”

The Academic Senate plans to vote on the policy at its February meeting.

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