Oct 1, 2022
Content Warning: Ableism
This fall term has been a time of uncertainty for faculty in the Disability Studies program. As the new university budget is being drafted, and as we search for a new university president, department heads are left scrambling to catch up to the University of Oregon’s intensifying plot of profitization and privatization.
Director of the Disability Studies minor, Betsy Wheeler, spoke with the Insurgent about the troubles her department is facing and their plans for action. If herself and colleagues do not succeed in bargaining with the university, the program and other minors like it risk being done away with entirely by next year.
According to Wheeler, Disability Studies “is a big and thriving minor but it is looking like it may shut down by the end of the year,” because the “College of Arts and Sciences [is] refusing to provide any support for this minor in particular.” This is a problem that persists across minors at UO.
Program directors get the short end of the stick under the current model of minor program management. Directing a minor is a lot of extra work added to being faculty, and directors are not awarded extra compensation for their efforts, per Wheeler, “What we’re asking for is for the person who directs the minor to teach one fewer courses per year, that’s called a course release. So that you’re basically not doing 120% of your job for the price of 100%.”
Disability Studies is more than coursework, too. As a minor, it is the only disability curriculum on campus and entails “an internship component: a requirement, where students are out working in the disability community all over Lane County. So there’s administering the internships and making relationships with community partners, [and] there’s also a kind of disability outreach and awareness and advocacy that we do. And I think right now there’s about 60 students in the minor who seem to value it a lot and it would be a real shame if it went away.”
The program fills a unique spot in university curriculum, so to stretch the division of labor and preserve the program, faculty have so far “divided up the tasks of directing the minor,” but this is unsustainable. Wheeler says that, “if we can’t advocate to the administration for the course release, [this would cost] about 15,000 dollars a year, we’ll shut down in the spring. We feel that disabled people are always being asked to educate the wider public for free. And we can’t do that.” Faculty in this role need lighter workloads or receive just compensation for the extra labor this role requires.
The university’s arrogance towards the needs of its staff and programs is painfully obvious in light of the $3 Billion donation from Connie and Steve Ballmer to found the Ballmer Institute, up in Portland. The Insurgent reported on this move last year, the Institute is the latest instance of philanthropic billionaires stringing our public university on their purse strings. From a liberal lens, the Institute’s intention appears to be pure; but the perspectives provided by disability scholarship are critical of the approach the Ballmer’s wish to instate. The Institute’s approach to childhood mental health and disabilities is one based on techniques like applied behavioral analysis that aim for compliance and repression of autistic self-expression rather than support, adaptation, and understanding. Ballmer branding obfuscates the harm professional interventions to conditions like autism cause members of the disability community (when adults with lived experience aren’t consulted about beneficial methods of education and therapy) and through veiling its ableism through PR buzzwords, like in this excerpt from the Ballmer website:
“Capitalizing on the synergies between workforce development and service delivery, new products will be studied thoroughly and disseminated quickly to respond to the urgent needs of children, adolescents, their families, and communities.”
This efficient, streamlined approach to mental health issues is in fact regressive and likely more harmful than helpful to the community it aims to work for. This is the same type of rhetoric organizations like Autism Speaks uses, in attempts to cure chronic mental and physical conditions rather than accommodate and normalize them. In further repression of disability justice frameworks on campus, the College of Education recently announced a new major in applied behavioral analysis, a move that Wheeler criticizes, “There’s really been no attention to the very strong critiques of applied behavioral analysis in the autism community, and that’s another place where disability studies can offer another perspective.”
Through these programs, the university is feigning to provide a needed service while ignoring the needs of preexisting ones. This is “part of a larger general trend of devaluing the labor of the people who work at UO, whether that’s faculty, or staff, and a kind of increasing centralization where things that are special and unique get less and less valued.” Disability Studies isn’t the only program facing these problems, this dilemma extends to all English department minors, Black Studies, Comic Studies, Food Studies, Global Health, and more.
What’s happened “is a kind of divide and conquer, where they’re telling different minor directors different things and we’ve all been engaged in this kind of silo strategy where we’ve been each advocating separately for the minors. We’re just starting to realize, oh, this is a general policy issue where we need to work together,” so in response to Admin’s unrealistic expectations, faculty are organizing a campaign to save the program. Here’s how the program’s Exec Board says you can help, start by being aware of UO’s hypocrisies:
“CAS doesn’t value diversity when it expects “diverse” faculty to foster equity and inclusion as an extracurricular activity. The Disability Studies Minor is only one of many UO interdisciplinary, community-based education initiatives that do the heavy lifting of the university’s diversity work with near-zero support. With your help, we’ll pressure the UO Administration to put action behind its talk of equality, wellness, career readiness, and transformational leadership.” — Disability Studies Executive Board.
See here for more information.