Wrangling College People About Being Sick

Discussion in 'General Advice' started by anthers, Oct 5, 2020.

  1. anthers

    anthers sleepy

    I was diagnosed with a relapse of Lyme disease that I originally caught in August right before I went back to University. One of the primary symptoms was incredibly crushing fatigue, to the point where I was only able to piddle around for a few hours before getting squashed into a nap. More symptoms included brain fog, migraines when looking at screens, troubles focusing, and my joints refusing to bend right.

    The way my university handles being sick with something that impacts your ability to do schoolwork is for the student health clinic to give your deans office a note about it. It's nonspecific about diagnosis due to privacy laws, but basically it's what you use for proof that you're not making up being sick. I got one of these, emailed out to all my professors I need accommodation for my illness, and specified I had Lyme and in particular needed flexible assignment deadlines. These emails all went out a week ago.

    I heard back from every single professor about it except for one class, Intro to GIS, which is required for my major and is a four-credit class. These professors (jointly taught class) just emailed me back today telling me that I can't have flexible deadlines and that I'm not able to gain credit for the late work I turned in while waiting for them to get back to me.

    So what the fuck do I do now to fight this? Who should I talk to? I scheduled a meeting with them to discuss it so I'll prioritize that, but fuck.
    • Witnessed x 5
  2. anthers

    anthers sleepy

    To mods: I put this in General Advice cos it's more about the university than it is about my illness, but feel free to move it!
  3. Everett

    Everett local rats so small, so tiny

    Is there a disability office at your university, amd would Lyme fall under them? Is there an official you can shove at your professors to tell them "no, for real, this student needs flexible deadlines, be decent"

    Eta: ah point taken about pulling rank and having to deal with profs in future. I dont have experience with this, all my profs were decent when i had to get my accommodations approved in college. Godspeed
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2020
    • Agree x 1
  4. anthers

    anthers sleepy

    I actually have disability accommodations for other stuff and I don't think they handle illness. I guess that person might be my dean? But I'm anxious about pulling rank so hard, so to speak.
  5. idiomie

    idiomie I, A Shark Apologist

    You can try to reply by (gently) telling them that accommodations aren't a request here - you followed all the right channels, your school has a policy for handling accommodations for being sick, they are, in that regard, required to give you accommodations. If they don't like the accommodations you requested, they need to work with you to come up with alternatives. Emphasize that this class is important to you and you want to do well. Also, ask them to explain why they won't accept any credit for your late work, when they're the ones who dropped the ball here and were unresponsive.

    Now, tbh, my gut feeling? No matter how politely and deferentially you phrase this email, they'll be defensive. Professors who feel like their class is their own little fiefdom and they don't have to make any accommodations (whether for disabilities or sickness) are a thing, and particularly the "no credit for the missed work while we were AWOL" makes me think that's their type.

    The point of this email then is, assuming the next person up the chain is a reasonable person (which I think you have a good chance of, seeing as how it's just this one class!), proving that you are a) doing your best, b) respecting your professors, c) and trying to Make Things Work

    So when your professors either a) don't reply in a timely manner (no longer than a week; if you email on a Monday, you escalate on the next Monday) or b) tell you that gee there just aren't any accommodations that would work here, you can demonstrate that they are the problem here, not you

    They might reply with different accommodations that actually work (although I doubt that, because generally when the accommodation you need is "flexible deadlines" there isn't anything else), or they might do the whole "oh we thought you were just faking it okay won't be a problem" song and dance, which won't require escalation. If they try to give you accommodations that don't work, taking the time to lay out why they won't work and flexible deadlines will.

    NB: this is a difficult course to follow if you have more classes with these professors after this one. Because they will probably remember this

    Also I don't know where you are in the course of your major but a class named "intro" makes me feel like you might have at least another semester left, so, one other option is to ask to take the course/finish it as an accelerated summer course (if that's something you think you can commit to). I had to do that for a class. That's not something I strongly recommend here (you're sick with a fatigue sickness, that gets worse with overexertion, and this is a 4 credit class), but it's on the table, and if you don't want to do this you should probably come up with sound arguments for why before anyone else gets the bright idea of suggesting it

    I can probably mock up a template email for the one I was talking about, if you'd like
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  6. idiomie

    idiomie I, A Shark Apologist

    Oh also - your Dean is a good place to escalate, but talking to your major advisor about this can also be good, and won't necessarily be seen as escalation or pulling rank
  7. Acey

    Acey time has the power to bind us too close

    I'm not sure I have any advice per se, but are they the only professors available for that class? If not, would it be possible to switch classes (eventual schedule permitting obviously), and if so, do you know if it's possible to retake the class at a later date?

    Witnessed, in any case. That's super fucked. :(
  8. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    honestly, if your professors denied you the accommodations you're entitled to, all communication with them about this should go through a university intermediary.

    your professors are not just being unfair--they're in violation of university policies. there are systems in place that are meant to prevent this sort of thing from happening, and now is the time to activate those systems.

    speak with student health and the person who gave you your accommodation letter. tell them that you have two professors who are refusing to give you accommodations. their office will likely be able to tell you who to contact--potentially the dean, but potentially another administrative office.

    your university likely has a student ombudsperson. you should consider contacting that office as well. their function is to help guide you through university policies and procedures and to help resolve complaints.

    source: am a TA, prof in a department i worked in got sued for not following accommodation guidelines
    • Agree x 4
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  9. anthers

    anthers sleepy

    Honestly I don't even care too much if they give me the flexible deadlines now, it's more the 'very large chunk of my total grade is now a zero' that's upsetting to me. I'm going to start with meeting with them and asking if there's any way to make up the credit + get some sort of accomodations moving forwards, and then email my major advisor and get things moving on that.
    • Witnessed x 2
  10. I don't know if it helps, but here are my thoughts, speaking as a college professor:

    Your illness is a disability, your flexible deadlines etc are disability accommodations. IME the main reason DS offices don't do illness accommodations is because they're usually minor and short-term, but this is clearly more major and long-term, so hopefully they would be able to work with you. So my personal, not-a-lawyer-or-disability-expert advice would be to start with the DS folks first, and only escalate to higher ups if the DS office can't resolve things. This is both to spare you the stress of having to track down who to talk to, making appointments, etc, and also to reduce the chance the faculty dig in their heels because they feel defensive. (Faculty are really dumb about this. I have no idea why we're so bad about it, but we absolutely are.)

    Here are some reasons they might be saying no:

    1. They could be assholes. this is a thing that happens, unfortunately.

    2. They could be not taking it seriously because the letter came from health services instead of the disability office (the general perception at my campus pre-covid already was that students could get health center letters so easily that they don't actually prove the student was sick) or because they don't understand how debilitating chronic fatigue/migraines/etc can be. Hopefully working with the DS office will help address that.

    3. They previously said No to flexible deadlines for another student with a health center note and now they feel they have to say no to you for fairness to that student. This is a tricky one, but hopefully the DS office can help them feel like they're allowed to say yes to you.

    4. Usually profs only have to give "reasonable accommodations" for illness/absence/etc, and they're saying no because they have a reasonable-to-them reason for not accepting late work under certain circumstances. These might include:
    - The solutions were made available and they're worried about fairness, or have a policy of No Late Work After Solutions Are Posted.
    - The other assignments were graded and returned to class and they're worried about fairness (ie, in theory you could've gotten an unfair advantage looking at a classmate's graded work).
    - The other assignments were already graded and they're worried about consistency/fairness of grading/finding the time to grade it/getting it to the TAs to grade/some other logistical thing that seems like NBD from the outside but can seem like a big barrier for them in the moment (profs are human, we have anxiety sometimes too!)
    - something else I can't think of where if they explained it, we might go "ohh, okay, that's what they're worried about"

    For this category, the DS office might be able to help find a solution that addresses their concerns but also gets you accommodations -- e.g., asking the profs to excuse the work (that's what I do for late work if solutions have already been posted), or grade the late work Pass/Fail and excuse the assignments that Pass. The DS office will hopefully have experience finding creative solutions that will address the profs' concerns.

    As a back-up, I recommend you talk to your major advisor or department chair about taking the class Pass/Fail or Credit/No Credit. Often you aren't allowed P/F in the major (although it depends on the school), but this might be a case where you can petition for an exception.
    • Informative x 2
  11. latitans

    latitans zounds, scoob

    I agree with Quicksilver that the most likely cause for this dispute is the "reasonable" part of "reasonable accommodations." Your professors might think that, for whatever reason, what you're asking for isn't "reasonable." In the context of a college class, this generally means an accommodation that would totally alter the nature of the class if it were granted. (e.g. In a class where 75% of the grade is determined by lab work, an accommodation that excuses a student from lab for the semester would not be considered reasonable, because at that point they're essentially not taking the class anymore.)

    That's part of the reason that I recommend talking to student health and disability services first. I don't know how it works at your university (obvi), but where I work student health and disability services are the ones who determine what reasonable accommodations are. At my university, we're not supposed to speak with students directly about accommodations at all. They talk to DS, DS gives us a super-secret letter with the accommodations that they've decided are appropriate, and then we put the accommodations into action. If there's any sort of issue with providing the accommodation, we're meant to go to DS, not to the student.
    • Informative x 2
  12. idiomie

    idiomie I, A Shark Apologist

    Ah, yeah, I'm also going to add in here: my advice was HEAVILY informed by having an anti-accommodations disability services office. "The head of the office gave a freshman orientation telling you that his philosophy was to deny accommodation requests, because students couldn't be trusted to actually know what they needed and were usually just faking to cheat the class" anti-accommodations. I had a number of friends who dropped out/transferred because they couldn't get accommodations (even for temp stuff, yeah; if it fucks over your grades enough, cutting your losses and going to another school is worth it).

    This is hopefully not a normal experience, but yeah, all of my advice is colored by "the administration and specific offices meant to help you here will be actively hostile to your needs."
    • Witnessed x 3
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