The U.S. Department of Education’s Office on Civil Rights has launched an investigation into Temple Disability Resources and Services after a Temple graduate student filed a grievance against the university for a professor’s actions.
David Harris, a student in the social work department, said he experienced discrimination from Associate Director of Disability Resources and Services Aaron Spector and from a professor in the College of Health Professions and Social Work after they questioned his request for an accommodation for his diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
Harris said he requested his professor give him extra time on a paper so that he could take it to the writing center.
During a meeting with his field liaison and social work professor, Harris said he was called an irritant and was told that he was irritating everyone in the department due to filing a grievance policy.
Spector declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements.
Harris’s lawyer declined to comment, citing a desire to remain a neutral party during the ongoing investigation.
Harris said he previously received accommodations in class for his bipolar disorder and has submitted a doctor’s note to Disability Resources and Services.
“Temple’s unofficial policy about the accommodation letters is that you have to hand deliver it to a faculty member,” Harris said. “Even if this is done in private, oftentimes professors take the opportunity to question the student as to why they need this accommodation and what the nature of their disability is.”
According to Section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, “It is the student’s responsibility to identify him/her to the university as having a disability, and submit any required documentation, prior to engaging in any activity for which accommodation is being requested.”
The act does not, however, go into specifics about the delivery process, a factor Harris aims to correct and make clear in a new Disability Accommodation Procedure and Protection Policy which he submitted to Temple Student Government in addition to his grievance against the university.
“No member of university staff or any participant in any university activity or program has the right to initiate a conversation about a student’s disability or their right to an ADA accommodation,” Harris’ policy states.
In addition, the policy amends that students would no longer have to physically deliver letters of accommodation to a faculty or staff member, instead they can opt to email the letter.
Harris submitted a draft of this new policy to Student Body President Darin Bartholomew, who is working with Spector to implement it.
“We read over his proposal and we’re happy to report that changing the delivery process of accommodation forms to allow for an electronic option is something that Temple is already working on,” Bartholomew said in an email.
Harris said the discrimination and violation of privacy some students with a disability have experienced has led them to drop out.
“It came to light through talking to many of my disabled peers at Temple and through [Spector’s] own words that many students complained of being abused by faculty because faculty members violate their privacy when they’re giving their accommodation letters,” Harris said.
Harris said if the Department of Education finds Temple non-compliant with the disability law, he likely will file suit against the university.
Harris is also advocating for the removal of Spector from the position of associate director of Disability Resources and Services.
“For three years under him he did allow for the unlawful discrimination of many students with disabilities, the most vulnerable of our academic community,” Harris said.
While the investigation is taking place, Harris and fellow students are in the process of creating a student organization called Abilities Exchange that will teach students with disabilities how to advocate and protect themselves against discrimination.
Sarai Flores can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.