Sunday, March 13, 2016

Resource allocation and social justice

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia *

On February 23, University of Iowa’s president, J. Bruce Harreld, held a “town hall” meeting. It consisted of a one-hour data dump followed by a poorly managed Q&A session. Unsurprisingly, very few people in attendance were able to ask questions and receive meaningful answers. However, throughout the event Harreld repeatedly mentioned two phrases—“allocating resources” and “spreading the peanut butter”—that might be key to understanding the thinking and strategy of the new leadership of the University. Should the people who are served by this public institution, mainly students, worry? The short answer is, yes. Sadly, early signs suggest that those who need resources most will not get them: students with disabilities.
Faculty who teach large General Education courses may have recently received a letter from the Student Disability Services (SDS), as I did. Most of the content of the letter is familiar, but the first recommendation is noteworthy. It reads:

[Named student] will need a copy of notes that’s thorough and more comprehensive than a PowerPoint or outline... The instructor may choose to share a copy of their own notes, make a confidential announcement to solicit a volunteer student note taker from class, or have a TA take notes.
CLAS’s Undergraduate Educational Policy and Curriculum Committee (UEPCC) noted that “SDS announced on January 21 that [it] can no longer offer testing accommodations… SDS has thus asked instructors to handle testing arrangements for these students.”  UEPCC members were unsure if instructors were qualified to do some of the tasks they were asked to do.
Why should students and their parents be worried about this change in services at this public university? Because if the administrators are willing to re-allocate resources that were meant to provide for a group of students protected by state and federal laws, one can only imagine the future of programs that provide for other marginalized social. This “resource re-allocation” is a dangerous precedent because: