Campus / News / January 16, 2013

Intellectual disability support stretched thin

College support services like the Center for Teaching and Learning are having difficulty providing academic accommodations for students with intellectual disabilities, a college official told the faculty Monday.

CTL Director John Haslem described the field as one that is expanding, as very few students needed accommodations when he arrived at the college in 1997.

“Over the years, however, we have seen a steady uptick in the number of students that we’re seeing. Around the year 2000, increasingly with diagnoses describing some kind of a processing disorder, verbal or auditory,” Haslem said.

The accommodations made to such students were primarily limited to providing in-class note takers, digitized texts and more time to complete assignments in class, according to Haslem.

“Recently, though, we’re seeing a student type who is a little more challenging and a little more difficult. These are students on the autism-Asperger’s spectrum. These are students who usually experience a number of challenges … that sometimes manifest themselves in a behavioral context as well as providing a learning challenge for them,” Haslem said.

The presence of students in need of different academic accommodations has presented a new challenge to the faculty.

“I think we all understand that students think and learn differently, but that in the past they have sort of been on a bell curve in an area where we all felt comfortable and knew what to do and could pretty much proceed with our teaching as we always had,” Haslem said. “What we’re seeing now though I think are learners who are veering off that bell curve and learning differently enough that we need to start to address their needs.”

“When I think about our students for whom we are needing to make academic accommodations, I think we have a number of concerns. Some of them are legal, some of them are moral, some of them are practical and some of them are pedagogical in nature,” Haslem said.

Haslem noted that one of the major difficulties is that information received on these students, outside of their interaction with CTL staff, is poorly documented and anecdotal in nature. Acquiring suitable documentation often requires time and may present a financial burden upon the college. However, he insisted that students are becoming more comfortable with self-disclosure, though on a case-by-case basis.

Learning Specialist at the CTL Stephanie Grimes introduced another issue limiting the development of a blanket policy, as academic accommodations are made on a term-by-term basis for each student, requiring significant amounts of coordination at the beginning of each new term.

President Teresa Amott relayed that the college’s “mission of access” drew her to Knox and that the issue is a civil rights frontier.

Haslem described the issue as one that is dealt with on a national scale, and that solutions must be sought without lowering academic standards.

“I think support providers at all institutions nationwide are trying to understand what they’re experiencing and to develop measures to respond. What I’m hoping then is that we’re initiating a conversation that will lead us to practical and increasingly pedagogical responses, so that when you have students in your classroom who do seem to learn very much differently, we can find humane and creative, and still challenging for the student, ways to respond to these students,” Haslem said.

Dean of the College Larry Breitborde went on to note that the discussion, done in conjunction with the CTL represents the spectrum of issues that fall under the purview of faculty development.

“When we talk about [Schneider’s] title having to do with faculty development we’re not talking about the narrow sense of faculty development, research and conference travel. We’re talking about the whole other scope of what we do as faculty, and trying to address some needed discussion, and maybe even education, on some issues that have been with us for a long time,” Breitborde said.


Committee reports

Dean’s report — Breitborde proposed that freshman preceptorial remain the same for next fall, as assessment data will not be collected early enough to decide whether to move in a different direction.

“We are in a kind of a funny loop with time—that is to say we started this experiment we’ve now done it twice, at some point we have to decide if it continues to be an experiment. Maybe we want to leave it as a perpetual experiment, Breitborde said. “That decision needs to be made on the basis of the assessment data that is being pulled together from last fall. The earliest we will see that and be able to discuss it is February.”

President’s report — Budget forums concerning the deficit and other financial matters will be held next week on Jan. 23 at 4 p.m. and Jan. 24 at 10 a.m.

Dean Search Committee — Over winter break, the committee met with 10 candidates in Chicago. Chair Konrad Hamilton believes that the three strongest candidates were chosen and that any could fulfill the requirements of the position. Criteria used to narrow the candidate field included administrative experience, the ability to learn about a liberal arts education, the candidate’s philosophy, their ability to implement their philosophy, a personality conducive to dealing with the stresses of the position, educational background and research, experience dealing with specific issues, as well as their ability to work with faculty. Hamilton highlighted the importance of online feedback surveys, which will have a major influence on the final decision. The feedback survey closes on the morning of Jan. 22 at 11 a.m.; the committee will review the feedback, meet on Jan. 25 and make an offer to a candidate.

Faculty affairs committee — Calls for new tenure track positions are being considered.

Academic Standing Committee — The committee is in the process of expanding the Honor Code Review Committee Report and is aiming to have suggestions based on the report by the February faculty meeting.

Broadcast, Internet, and Publication Board — A survey on student media will be circulated in an effort to find out how students are consuming student publications in an effort to help student publications reach intended audiences. The report will be created in late February and will not be used for budgetary purposes.

Julian Boireau
Julian Boireau is a senior majoring in international relations and minoring in French. This is his fourth year working for TKS, having served as co-news editor during his sophomore and junior years. He has been involved in journalism for seven years, serving as opinions editor of the newspaper and editor-in-chief of the literary magazine at Palisades Charter High School in Los Angeles, California. In September 2012, Julian received press credentials to attend the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative in New York City, where he reported on remarks by President Barack Obama and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. He is also the recipient of back-to-back first place awards from the Illinois College Press Association for front page layout.

Tags:  faculty intellectual disabilities Knox College

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