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Commission discusses class breaks

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 19 Issue 09 - October 24, 1996

The Commission on Graduate Studies and Policies (CGSP) heard a presentation on the Americans with Disabilities Act, and considered a resolution to increase the break between classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays to 15 minutes.

The class break resolution came from the Commission on Undergraduate Studies in response to concern about the ability of students to cross campus and traverse crowded hallways in 10 minutes between classes. Breaks on Tuesdays and Thursdays are already 15 minutes. CGSP members raised concerns about coordination with electronic courses, joint offerings with other institutions, and scheduling of 4 p.m. seminars. The change would be implemented in 1998. CGSP members will consult with their constituents and vote at the November 6 meeting.

Virginia Reilly, ADA coordinator with Virginia Tech's EOAA office, explained aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA mandates that "no qualified individual with a disability shall, by reason of such disability, be excluded from participation in or be denied the benefits of the services, programs, or activities of a public entity, or be subjected to discrimination by such entity."

Reilly said the definition of disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities; a record of such an impairment; or being regarded as having such an impairment.

Reilly said that 8.4 percent of graduate students at Virginia Tech report having a documented disability-three-times what it was in 1988. The ADA came into effect in 1990. Since then, public-school transition teams have advised students about what they may expect in terms of accommodation if they choose to go to college.

Students with complaints about treatment or lack of accommodation have many avenues for filing a complaint, from a meeting with a faculty member or department head to a more formal action in the EOAA office, filing of a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, or even private legal action, Reilly said.

"Virginia Tech serves nearly 700 students with disabilities," Reilly said. Most are "invisible" disabilities, such as psychological conditions. Reilly discussed the kinds of equipment available in Newman Library, and said the basic principles of reasonable accommodation are:

The accommodation must be effective. "It needn't be the latest technology," Reilly said, "simply effective"; the accommodation must be related to the disability; the accommodation does not have to be what is requested. Alternative strategies or technologies may be provided.

A student's disability is confidential information, Reilly emphasized. Therefore, individuals with disabilities cannot be directed to contact a specific office to apply for admission. The university also cannot share information regarding a student's disability, use tests or criteria that fail to accommodate a disability, exclude students from a course of study, or counsel a student toward a restrictive career. However, a student must be informed of a licensure requirement that they would not be able to meet.

Reilly said although it is hard for a student to tell a faculty member about a disability, "we want them to be self advocates." She suggested a course syllabus have a statement that encourages discussion, such as, "Any student with special needs or circumstances should feel free to meet with me during office hours."

Students can find help from the Dean of Students Office's Services for Students with Disabilities. Reilly in her role as ADA coordinator will help faculty members who are working with students with disabilities.

Basically, she said, "Look at abilities first. Attitudes are the only real disability. Students with disabilities have often already developed coping mechanisms and strategies."

The university's ADA Advisory Committee and ADA Executive Group are working together to draft an umbrella policy and procedures. A draft of the policy will go before the university's governance groups.

In other business, Janet Wojcik said the Graduate and Professional School Fair was a success, with more than 500 students attending and more than 50 schools participating. "We received a positive response from both groups. Penn State's College of Engineering saw about 200 people. A lot of the (other) students were interested in health-related areas of study."

Wojcik also reported that Graduate Student Assembly (GSA) officers will attend the National Association of Graduate and Professional Schools Conference in San Diego. Wojcik will give a presentation on the GSA travel-fund program, which provides some support to students presenting at professional meetings. The GSA has received $25,000 a year from education overhead to fund the travel fund and the Graduate Research Development Program, which helps students fund the cost of their research. These programs will now be funded by the Virginia Tech Foundation in the amount of $30,000, reported John Eaton. The GSA awards grants for the two programs based on student proposals.

Hans Rott said he surveyed some 60 faculty members regarding limiting electronic renewal of library materials to six months, and letting the library tell someone who wants to recall a book who presently has the book, if the current borrower agrees. The survey will be shared with the library committee.

Among the actions by the graduate curriculum committee was approval of a name change for the Department of Biochemistry and Nutrition to the Department of Biochemistry.