UW-Madison leaders on Monday pledged to review the university’s handling of requests from instructors with a disability or medical condition who asked to teach online this fall.
Multiple faculty groups have expressed concerns about the accommodations process after hearing from vulnerable instructors who said they were told UW-Madison is denying most remote teaching requests because of a need to offer in-person classes.
Three instructors with a disability or medical condition who sought remote teaching flexibility shared similar accounts with the Wisconsin State Journal. Each of those instructors spoke with a different staff member in the Employee Disability Resources office.
Provost John Karl Scholz told a faculty committee on Monday that there’s “never been an edict” from Chancellor Rebecca Blank or himself to deny all accommodation requests made through the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Any such policy would be “grossly against the law (and) also the wrong thing to do,” he said, adding that each case is decided based on an individual’s circumstances.
UW-Madison denies having any blanket policy denying all requests but three instructors with a medical condition or disability said they were told that the university is denying nearly all requests.
Committee chair Eric Sandgren asked Scholz to explain how multiple instructors who spoke with different disability representatives all came to the conclusion that there was some sort of blanket denial policy.
“When there’s that much smoke, there’s some fire somewhere,” Sandgren said.
Scholz chalked it up to miscommunication, comparing it to a game of telephone in which his enthusiasm for returning to mostly in-person classes may have been misinterpreted by others.
Of the 31 online teaching requests UW-Madison has received, about half have been granted or the university has offered some other accommodation, such as a colleague taking over the in-person course. Blank said she did not consider providing N95 masks an accommodation that would classify the request as “approved.”
Likely not reflected in the data are instructors who pulled out of the process before officially submitting their requests. Teaching assistant Sara Trongone declined to proceed with her case after a “discouraging” conversation in which she said her disability representative told her all requests were being denied.
Blank pushed back on the assertion that employees who withdrew early from the process had “discouraging” conversations with their disability representatives. Those conversations, she said, could also be viewed as “information sharing” in which individuals realize they don’t have a case that qualifies under the ADA and may instead be directed to a non-medical or non-disability-related accommodations process.
The processing time for accommodation requests was another concern raised by faculty.
About 10 of the 31 requests have yet to be answered, Scholz said.
Blank’s chief of staff, Matt Mayrl, said the university has provided additional support to disability representatives over the past several weeks.
UW-Madison makes a good-faith effort to approve, modify or deny requests within 30 calendar days, according to university policy.
English professor Ellen Samuels said she waited two to three weeks before having her online teaching request approved.
But Michael Bernard-Donals, who is president of the university’s faculty advocacy group known as PROFS, said he knew of half a dozen cases in which requests by instructors with a medical condition, disability or immunocompromised family member took more than 30 days to receive an answer. In three of those cases, he said the process has spanned 90 or more days.
Blank said such an extended response time would be “a dysfunctional way to do business” but noted that she didn’t think that was common across all cases — something that the Office of Human Resources will look at in its review.
“I’m heartened to hear the chancellor and provost say some of the instances they’re hearing about are not satisfactory,” Bernard-Donals said in an interview after the Monday meeting. “It’s also terrific that they will do an after-action report. But it doesn’t help the people waiting in the queue or who already had their request denied.”
Know Your Madisonian 2021: Profiles from the Wisconsin State Journal's weekly series
They're your neighbors, co-workers or friends you may not have met yet. And they all have a story to tell.
Lessner started out in the laundromat business when he was about 10 years old helping his dad.
The Madison Police Department's new public information officer Tyler Grigg wants to be timely, open and maybe even a little creative in his new position.
Rowan Childs, 44, wanted to fill her home with books for her own children to enjoy but knew not all children are able to have the same experience.
“I did find my passion," says Sally Zirbel-Donisch, "... it was working with not only students and families but staff and partners in the community."
In 1992, Kathy Kuntz enrolled in UW-Madison, expecting to earn a PhD in history, but it was a temp job as a receptionist at a nonprofit that led her into what would become a career in energy.
Michael Graf has written five screenplays: "Winter of Frozen Dreams," "The Last Indian War," "Throwing Hammers," "Venice of America" and "Picket Charlie," a just-finished environmental action picture tackling climate change.
A poll worker and volunteer interviewer for the Fire Department, Pranee Sheskey says she enjoys being part of making democracy work.
John Adams and Michael Moody founded the nonprofit Catalyst for Change in January 2020 to eliminate human suffering one life at a time by placing human dignity and development at the forefront of poverty, addiction and homelessness.
Harambee Village Doulas is trying to improve infant mortality, maternal health.
For more than two decades, the Droids Attack front man has refurbished games at his business Aftershock Retrogames. Now, he's looking to open an arcade bar.
Tiffany Olson owns 120 plants, a Willy Street greenhouse store and a loving Havanese named Mia.
Matt Reetz has spent years studying birds, doing postdoctoral research around the United States, Australia, the Caribbean and southern Chile.
Tony Gomez-Phillips' prairie-inspired planting connects Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture with a garden style that embodies his views of nature and how it interacts with humans.
Since 1962, the McCann family name led efforts to make sure Hilldale shopping center is clean and safe. Now Tom McCann has retired to fish, hunt turkeys and catch Dungeness crabs.
Out Health, run by Dr. Kathy Oriel, is in a former dentist's office on University Avenue.
Ken Fager turned pandemic boredom into a popular public art campaign of 3D-printed miniature state Capitols placed throughout Downtown.