DIVERSITY is a huge BS on campus. One variant is learning disability (LD).

Two years ago I got my first bite of this BS from our student disability office (SDO). One afternoon one of my students stopped by my office with the document from SDO declaring her LD. The document required me to give her double exam times, separate test room, with no mentioning of her actual disability. I signed the form and asked if I can be of any help of her situation. I also reminded her that taking separate exams means she would be able to ask for clarification during the exam. To my surprise, she took my words quite differently from what I intended—she started crying in my office.

A day later I received a harsh email from the student disability office, listing my five sins the student complained to the office. The email really pissed me off. For one it is students’ right not to disclose their condition leading to the special accommodation request. But it is also faculty’s right to know why one student is entitled to take double time over the rest of class—it rubs my nerve of fairness. The answer from the office can hardly be more arrogant—it’s the UNIVERSITY POLICY.

I thought that teachers must be fair to ALL students, that what to teach, how to exam is faculty’s prerogative. I was wrong: the SDO office, who has no professional knowledge of my field, can preempt my judgment on how to evaluate students in my class.

I have nothing against truly disabled. In fact, they have all my sympathy and respect, given tremendous adversary they must overcome just to get an equal chance in the classroom. Universities and faculty should try their best to accommodate these students, e.g., special corridor for wheelchairs, audio records, etc.

But learning disability is a quite different animal. Its diagnosis is most often in the hands of psychiatrists, not medical doctors. The typical causes including, reading, math, and concentration problems. Because of its subjective nature, LD is subject to abuse by those ambitious but less able students, to gain unjustified advantages–given double exam time as most often demanded. Who can do worse given double time?

Even if such diagnosis is justified, I still don’t see the logic. Why does one’s deficiency in one area, be it math or reading, entitle him certain advantage—double testing time—over the rest? Isn’t it unfair to the normal students either? After all, LD students could well enroll in special education programs tailored for their crippling situations. But they don’t. Instead they choose to go to a normal university because its diploma weights much more in job market.

Here is my problem. If they want the prestige and credential provided by normal programs, they must subject themselves to equal measures. Otherwise, would you trust your doctor who has reading difficulty, number challenged, and took double time to finish exams?  How much credit would you put on such earned degree? (Well, I hope my dentist is in that category.)

Still, I have no problem with accommodating learning disability students if their grades are marked differently, say ‘taken under double time’. But taking undue advantage over others is cheating.

I have only contempt for those who tell others they are entitled to cheating.

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[Zion, Utah, 10/01/2011]