On proceduralism and disability

Last week Collegeland had a podcast on universities denying accommodations to faculty, staff and students that featured guests Bess Williamson, Aimi Hamraie, and me. It’s recommended listening if you are interested in higher education and the politics of disability.

While I was away in the forest, I finally got an email from McGill’s HR acknowledging the validity of my request for an accommodation. That’s six weeks from the request to evaluation. The “official waiting time” was one week. I also can’t say I know anyone who has had a good experience with pandemic related accommodations, not just at McGill, but anywhere. It’s been a disaster and extremely stressful and time-consuming for disabled and chronically ill faculty and staff, and those who live with someone in a high risk category.

18 months into a pandemic, it’s embarrassing. And McGill is doing better than many other universities, as we discuss in the podcast. That’s horrifying.

On September 14th, I presented members of upper admin with a set of ideas that would take pressure off HR, the gist of which I reproduce in a companion post. It is now October 25th, and nothing has changed. Or rather, the wrong thing has changed.

Right now, my university has been busy forming committees to examine the problems that HR and the administration have created by a) claiming authority over how courses should be delivered and b) employing an individualizing model of chronic illness, disability, and vulnerability that results in denial of accommodations to many people who should rightly have them. Bureaucracy has a generally slowing effect on decision-making in large organizations. Although we tend to complain about it, this can be a good thing.

But the reality is that none of these committees would have been necessary had the university simply acknowledged that there is an ongoing pandemic, and that the epidemiology behind it suggests clear courses of action for people who are a) high risk or b) live with people who are high risk. And the creation of these committess–essentially procedures to devise procedures that any thinking person could have seen coming 18 months ago–will further delays in providing proper accommodations to people. This is simply wrong. We know what ought to be done.

One of the more bizarre aspects of this whole debacle is the pernicious idea circulating through HR and some admin channels that faculty don’t want to be in classrooms with students like it’s laziness or excessive fear on our part.

Seriously, fuck that.

Maybe that describes some people somewhere. But every time I see my students online it just reminds me of how much I miss being in the same space with them.

PS: Good news since I last checked in. My digestive system is back to its “new normal,” and I am eating spicy vegan food again. I had a nice time in the woods during McGill’s first-ever fall reading week, and I am generally feeling a bit better. Last week’s blood tests shows tumour marker nice and low. I am doing a bit more socializing since I came back and it’s really nice.