Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
September 25, 2022

Professors and deans can do what they like to disabled students

By LAUREL MAURY | September 6, 2022

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WIKIMEDIA COMMONS / CC BY-SA 3.0

Maury discusses the discrimination and mistreatment she faced from professors and University administration.

One professor almost succeeded in having me kicked out of Hopkins. He denied me disability accommodations, ostracized me, violated my privacy under federal law and bullied me. And I believe he was still given the power to make a decision that nearly resulted in my dismissal.

In the winter of 2019, I emailed the professor teaching my spring Computer Science course to ask if he would honor my approved disability accommodations. He emailed back saying he wouldn’t honor one of them. I contacted Student Disability Services (SDS), and the office’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) officer spoke with the professor, then assured me everything would be fine.

During the first class, the professor referred around ten times to the microphone that streams audio into my hearing aids, asking me how it was working. This outed me as disabled to the entire class, which is against Hopkins policy and, I believe, federal law.

Privately before the first class, I’d told him I control the bluetooth microphone remotely via my hearing aids, and we’d done a sound check. He’d seen it work. He had no reason to discuss the device publicly. I complained to the ADA officer.

After that, the professor mostly stopped calling on me and wouldn’t answer my questions. Students noticed, and no group would have me for the group project, which was part of our grade. Around mid-semester, the professor said the ADA officer had asked him how the class was going, and he had said everything was fine. 

I lied and agreed.

Had the ADA officer asked me personally, I would have described the weird treatment and the ostracism. I would have told him that the professor wasn’t providing all graded assignment information in writing, which was one of my accommodations.

So I finagled a medical drop by pleading a health issue. My case to my department didn’t involve disability; I was surprised by how easy it was. 

A year later, I took two courses with the same professor. The first class, he called on everyone to introduce themselves, except me. He almost never called on me in class. I attended the Zoom sessions, but he cut me out almost entirely from class discussion. I faced the same problem as before — no group would have me for the group project.

He didn’t send a number of live lectures and pre-recorded videos out for audio transcription (transcription made by a human being after the fact) the way he was supposed to, and he didn’t record all the live Zoom sessions so they could be transcribed.

My disability coordinator and the professor insisted everything had been transcribed, and that those unrecorded live Zoom sessions never happened. I also had live captioning — Communication Access Realtime Translation (CART) — for the sessions, but CART isn’t really accurate enough for engineering classes. I only started using it in 2020 because the pandemic moved everything to Zoom. 

He often modified assignments during class and didn’t put the modifications in writing, so I really needed those transcripts. But with the University’s transcription system, even when the professor submitted audio on time, the transcripts for material necessary for the weekly assignments would arrive after those assignments were due.

Late February, the professor bullied me during an office hour (see around five minute mark). My disability coordinator’s response was inadequate. So, I got a lawyer. The University’s general counsel largely ignored my lawyer.

I got pneumonia. For weeks on end, I could barely breathe. I collapsed during a chest X-ray and ended up in the hospital. Once home, I couldn’t get in-home oxygen due to the global shortage from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

I tried to keep up in class but couldn’t. My department gave me the option of either taking an incomplete or dropping the course. Based on the timeline my doctor gave me for getting well, I took the incomplete, even though all the audio transcripts, some by then months late, weren’t yet in.

Six weeks passed. Eight. I didn’t get well.

I opted for an extension on the incomplete on a phone call with a dean, where I didn’t fully understand what was said. The dean had arranged for a captioner for the meeting, but it was no use to me because I was at work and had to use my cell — the dean wouldn’t schedule a time to talk when I was at home. Then, I missed a chunk of the call because dialing in required following audio prompts; I had to guess what to do, and I guessed wrong several times before I got it right.

Without consulting me, this dean and the professor put together a schedule for getting my assignments in. I told them it was impossible because I couldn’t predict the days when I was well. They put together another schedule. I continued to be ill. I went on disability leave at work. Instead of doing my assignments, I slept. 

The administration decided to fail me for both courses and dismiss me from my program. I believe, but cannot prove, they were following the professor’s recommendation. If this is true, Hopkins was dismissing a disabled student following the recommendation of a professor who had a track record of problems with disability accommodations. This dismissal also came suspiciously close in time to an Office of Institutional Equity (OIE) case I filed, so I wonder if retaliation played a role. 

I battled the dismissal for weeks. Another dean accepted yet another note from my doctor and gave me a retroactive medical drop.

(All disabled students: Set your college email to forward everything to a private account, and retroactively forward everything important. Do it now.)

In July 2021, I filed a second case with OIE against this professor for bullying me and failing to provide accommodations. On Monday, December 12, OIE emailed me that there was no evidence of disability discrimination. In practice, Hopkins finds none of the treatment described in this article constitutes discrimination. 

Recently, a group of disabled students took a set of demands to the Provost’s office. Concerning individual cases, the Provost’s response was largely that we should depend on OIE for resolution, not on social media, or the press. If my experiences with OIE are typical for disabled students, this answer is likely to help none of us.

Nearly a month later, the Provost’s Office got back to me, reinforcing their position that OIE is the proper channel for dealing with professors who do not provide disability accommodations. I find this statement problematic because, in 2019, I went to OIE about a professor who had refused to provide disability accommodations for half the semester, then abused my adaptive technology. Making a C in that course put me on academic probation. At the time, OIE refused to investigate.

In 2022 after we met with the Provost, OIE reopened my 2019 complaint without my consent and started an investigation, but I found it too upsetting to go forward — how this professor treated me hurt me so much, I’d gone into therapy in part to deal with it. With a fair amount of difficulty, I convinced OIE to stop. I do not believe they were acting in my best interest but rather to save face in front of the Provost.

When I first wrote for The News-Letter a year ago, I still thought I was being kicked out but was too embarrassed to admit it, yet I wanted to warn disabled JHU students how bad it can get here. Recently the Provost informed me that I’m no longer on academic probation, but my department has yet to tell me this. So I have no idea of my status. I could be kicked out at the end of the summer or never. 

After communicating with the dismissed counseling students and other current and former disabled Hopkins students, I’ve come to believe that it’s common for disabled students to face dismissal at Hopkins, particularly if they are put on academic probation. How common is not public; Hopkins does not release this data. 

What Hopkins has done to me is so upsetting and embarrassing — humiliating — it’s difficult to discuss. It’s like being in an abusive relationship with no recourse to the law. I feel stupid and duped for staying. I’ve suffered financially and physically. The University’s constant failures and gaslighting (no employee ever admits mistakes or problems) have been a strain on my psyche, my marriage and my relationships with friends. Abuse is isolating.

Let this be a warning to disabled students at Hopkins: professors and administrators can do what they like to you. Hopkins has, in writing, strong anti-bullying policies and Hopkins says they follow the ADA, but it’s not been my experience that they follow their own rules. You may even be dismissed — and there’s not much you can do about it. 

There is so little independent data on disabled students at Hopkins. I’ve created a confidential 16-question survey (not affiliated with The News-Letter). Please fill it out whether you’re disabled or not, so we can compare disabled versus non-disabled experiences

Independent disability survey

Laurel Maury is a graduate student in Engineering in the Whiting School’s Engineering for Professionals (EP) program, with a concentration in Computer Science. Her column discusses life as a disabled person at JHU and in the greater world.

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