Disability and privacy rights question
September 21, 2011 3:14 PM   Subscribe

My professor just told my entire class that I am the special student who is allowed to do something the rest of the class can't do (use a laptop to take notes) because I have a 'dispensation'. Can he do that, or was my privacy just violated?

I am a student at a California community college on my third semester. I have a documented disability that affects my ability to learn and take notes. I manage to get around this with use of a laptop. Because I've had professors in the past object to computers in the classroom and my laptop is necessary, I get the Disability Resource Center to write me a note for each class stating that I must be permitted to use the laptop to take notes.

Last Wednesday in my math course, my professor yelled* at the class for having laptops out. Today he told the class sternly that everyone had to put their laptops away and then told the entire class that there was only one person permitted to use their laptop because they had a DRC dispensation. Since I am now the only person with the laptop open in class, my entire class now knows that I am that special case -and- that I'm a DRC student.

I feel really singled out now, and embarrassed, and I'm not sure if what he did was actually a privacy rights violation or not. I've done a few google searches but I'm just not having any luck finding anything.

A few notes:
I'm a B+/A- student. I'm an adult in my 30s. I use a tiny little netbook with silent keys and sit in the back of the room so I'm not distracting anyone. I have other accommodations on my sheet, so this isn't the only thing I need. My disability is documented and permanent but invisible.

* Yelled as in used a raised voice. It was not a calm reasoned request. I don't know if he'd made requests in the class period before because I was ill.
posted by FritoKAL to Education (117 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Would you rather have had the inevitable "Why does Frito get to use a laptop?" question get asked? Seems to me he was just heading off complaints.
posted by Oktober at 3:17 PM on September 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


Yes, he violated your privacy rights. Speak to the disability student support personnel.
posted by liketitanic at 3:18 PM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Yeah, how else is he going to let you use one, but still stop everyone else? Would you rather he made up a story about how you were special because the two of you are having a love affair outside the class?
posted by nomisxid at 3:19 PM on September 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


What he did was clumsy and should have been handled a different way. What I'd like to suggest is that you speak with the Office for Students with Disabilities with the that they will educate your prof as to handle these difficult issues.
posted by Pineapplicious at 3:20 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


To cut off any more "Well what else should he have done?" queries, this is college. He could have said nothing and let -me- (an adult) handle the questions in my own way, which would have made it my choice, and I could have assessed each question individually.
posted by FritoKAL at 3:22 PM on September 21, 2011 [28 favorites]


The DRC might intercede for you. One option would be to contact them to ask for assistance. Do you feel like you can continue with the class? If you do, you could approach the professor and engage him in a discussion about the importance of privacy.

In my opinion, he violated your rights. What your options are in terms of redress, I can't say. You can consider what you would like to be the outcome of a complaint or grievance before you take this up with the DRC.

If I were you, I would ask to be moved to a different section of the class, one taught by another prof., if you can.
posted by S'Tella Fabula at 3:22 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


The students would not have asked you why you got to use a laptop, they would have asked him why you got the exception.
posted by jeather at 3:22 PM on September 21, 2011 [66 favorites]


The prof almost certainly could have handled this more sensitively, but if he really objects to laptops, then I think he was within his rights to make everyone else put them away, even if that had the effect of singling you out. I can't see how your privacy was violated at all. Your name, and the nature of your disability were not disclosed. The fact that only one person had dispensation to use a laptop in class was made overt, but if no-one else was allowed to use a laptop, in time your dispensation would have become apparent anyway.
posted by roofus at 3:24 PM on September 21, 2011 [18 favorites]


You need to speak to the student support office about this--because the professor handled it badly and that needs to be addressed. But please bear in mind--as so many people are mentioning--that the other students were going to see that you alone were allowed to use your laptop when the professor told everyone to turn them off because they weren't allowed. The other students were going to find it unfair, ask questions about it, make assumptions about it, complain about it. In my experience in university administration and as an adjunct, it's far more likely the students would complain to the professor or the dean than they would ask you about it.

Your university needs to come up with a way to address this in a manner better than your professor handled it which they won't do if you don't ask them to.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:24 PM on September 21, 2011 [18 favorites]


In my experience, the professors who make a big stink about students using laptops during class are major buttfaces anyway, so right off the bat this guy's not winning any points in my book.

I think it was completely out of line for him to announce the reason behind the lone laptop to the entire class. Please make a complaint to your Disabilities Resource Center as soon as possible, and do whatever it takes to get transferred to another class with a different teacher.

I would also write him a letter explaining that what he said was inappropriate, why it was inappropriate, and that you are leaving his section of the class because of it.
posted by phunniemee at 3:28 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


It was the PROFESSOR who would have gotten complaints about being inconsistent or playing favorites, not you, so he was within his rights. In fact, it's hard to imagine what else he could have done.

If you are an adult as you claim, you need to have less thin skin.
posted by zachawry at 3:29 PM on September 21, 2011 [48 favorites]


Very likely your school has regulations about what professors can and cannot say. Regardless, the fact that he made you uncomfortable needs to be addressed and it isn't your job to speak to him. Talk to the DRC, ask for a copy of educator's restrictions, and take it from there.

Also, try not to worry about what other people now think of you. If he said "DRC dispensation," chances are that nobody actually knew what he meant but it sounded official. If he said something more specific, chances are it didn't change what anyone thinks of you. If I was another student in your class at the time, I would be mildly curious for a few minutes at most, but more likely resentful for getting yelled at and not even thinking about you.
posted by DoubleLune at 3:33 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, I also received services through DRC for an invisible disability, and I wouldn't assume bad faith here. The mere mention that you have a disability which allows you a laptop dispensation isn't a big deal -- unless you think having a disability is somehow shameful. Which you don't, right?
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 3:35 PM on September 21, 2011 [32 favorites]


Today he told the class sternly that everyone had to put their laptops away and then told the entire class that there was only one person permitted to use their laptop because they had a DRC dispensation.

He should have said this:

Today he told the class sternly that everyone had to put their laptops away and then told the entire class that the only people who are permitted to use laptops in class are those who have obtained formal permission from the university.

Talking to the DRC to let them know how he handled it seems reasonable. Talking to him directly and suggesting the above alteration in order to be more sensitive to people with disablities in the future also seems reasonable.
posted by davejay at 3:36 PM on September 21, 2011 [52 favorites]


I think the professor was in a difficult spot here. Either he faces the wrath of the rest of the class for perceived unfair treatment, or he faces your wrath and that of the DRC for providing a brief explanation for different treatment which would have become quickly self-evident. I'd let it drop, unless you want to be perceived by faculty members as a litigious little snot. (And I'm sorry if that sounds harsh, but that's what you'll look like.)

I've seen students surfing YouTube, watching porn, playing online games, and chatting, not paying any attention whatsoever to what's going on in class. It demonstrates a lack of respect for the instructor and degrades the quality of the class for everyone, particularly when the format is discussion and no one is engaged, so I think the professor is entirely justified in banning laptop use generally.
posted by tully_monster at 3:37 PM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Also, since this is a tangent, I'd appreciate it if someone could MeMail me with an explanation why laptops wouldn't be allowed in class. When I was younger, I could type 100+wpm but had terrible handwriting (still do), and having a laptop to type notes on would have made a tremendous difference in my ability to take notes while still listening to the lectures.
posted by davejay at 3:38 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't see any reasonable way that your dispensation could have remained private, here.
posted by ftm at 3:38 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I might seek advice at the DRC office in your situation, to see what they say. I taught college for 13 years, and in my experience many disabilities with in-class accommodations are very visible--the student with the note-taker sitting next to her, for instance, so I'm not sure how strong a privacy right can be. As long as profs can disallow the use of laptops in general, you risk being visible in any class where you use one.

I think it was weakly inappropraite for the prof to say what he did--to say "only one student!" etc. But I would not think it was inappropriate for a prof to say, "Unless you have a documented disability that requires you to use a laptop during class, it's not allowed, so put them away," leaving you as the only one with a computer still on the desk. It's functionally the same outcome, but a little less pointed in terms of the prof shining a big spotlight on you.
posted by not that girl at 3:39 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Your privacy would have only been violated if he'd told everyone the medical condition that you have. Which he didn't.

As such, another vote for you needing thicker skin.
posted by mr_silver at 3:40 PM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


Your rights may have been violated. What do you want to happen?
If your goal is to stay in this class and learn, then you may have to ignore this.
If your goal is to educate the professor, then you may need to talk to him privately. If this doesn't help, you may need to escalate.
If your goal is to punish the professor, escalate immediately. Of course, this may mean you do poorly in the class or drop the class. And it could have an overall negative effect on your education. Revenge can be pricey.
posted by jclarkin at 3:42 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Having a special dispensation to use a laptop would have been revealed to the class by the fact that you were using a laptop, regardless of whether the professor said anything or not. I can't really imagine how your privacy was violated.
posted by auto-correct at 3:45 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I don't have a particularly good imagination, but it seems to me that a thoughtful professor could say, "Unless you've received permission from me or from the university, you cannot use a laptop in my class."

This does not reveal the specific reason that FritoKAL can use a laptop - only that she was prepared in advance.

Personally, if I were uncomfortable enough I would voice my displeasure. However, first I would decide what my desired outcome is. Do I want the professor to make an apology to me? Do I want all professors to be trained in privacy regulations and common courtesty towards students with disabilities? I don't think anyone on Metafilter can decide this for you.
posted by muddgirl at 3:45 PM on September 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


Oh my god, people, saying I'm embarrassed doesn't mean I'm in the bathroom crying over this. I'm chilling out and doing my homework and grumbling about it.

I asked a question, I did not ask for comments on my 'thin skin'. I did not ask for what you think the professor should or should not have done. I asked if it was a privacy violation. Please, answer that question and refrain from comments on your perception of my emotional reaction.
posted by FritoKAL at 3:45 PM on September 21, 2011 [49 favorites]


"Unless you've received permission from me or from the university, you cannot use a laptop in my class."
I don't think that would really solve the prof's problem, because people would ask him for permission and then get angry if he said no.

I think you should talk to the DRC folks about this. I think what the prof said probably was a privacy violation, but it's also not totally clear to me how he should have handled it. It seems like this would be a good thing for the DRC to try to train professors about.
posted by craichead at 3:48 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't see any reasonable way that your dispensation could have remained private, here.

When I have handled this in my classroom, I have told students that they cannot use laptops in class unless they speak with me and seek my permission in private. Why I've rejected some (most) but not others remains mysterious and irritating to them, but it allows me to make clear that some students may and others may not.

The fact that one has a dispensation at all should, ideally, remain private. Not because students would be "ashamed"--shame has very little to do with one's right to disclose certain kinds of information as one chooses to.
posted by liketitanic at 3:50 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


because people would ask him for permission and then get angry if he said no.

He's their professor, not their parent. He can't avoid students getting mad at him from time to time.
posted by muddgirl at 3:51 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've had professors do this in my classes because I'm the only one allowed to use a laptop for taking notes and for taking exams. Big deal. I don't see it as a violation of my rights or privacy because it's obvious that I *am* the only one using a laptop to take notes and take tests. So no, I don't think that your privacy or any rights were violated. But that's just my opinion.
posted by patheral at 3:53 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


It seems like you are only hearing what you want to hear. I don't think the answer is black and white. You and your professor were both in a tough spot.
posted by pintapicasso at 3:54 PM on September 21, 2011 [14 favorites]


I think that it was a privacy violation, if not based on a formal policy, than informally, from one human being to another. If it were one of my students, I'd feel bad that I had done that, in retrospect. There are clearly more discrete ways to address the issue, as mentioned above, and he was likely was not thinking too carefully about it in the heat of the moment.

I don't think I'd report a professor to the school over it, though. If he was contrite and understood that it made you feel bad, and was unlikely to do it again in the future, I'd consider that a settled matter. But that's just me.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:54 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I asked a question, I did not ask for comments on my 'thin skin'. I did not ask for what you think the professor should or should not have done. I asked if it was a privacy violation. Please, answer that question and refrain from comments on your perception of my emotional reaction.

OK, if we're not allowed to elaborate, my answer is "no".
posted by modernnomad at 3:56 PM on September 21, 2011 [39 favorites]


He's their professor, not their parent. He can't avoid students getting mad at him from time to time.
That's true, but there's a difference between the kind of mad that comes from giving a student a bad grade because they earned it and the kind of mad that comes from being seen to play favorites. When I've taught classes, I've tried to have clearly articulated policies that made it clear to students that they were being treated fairly.

Honestly, I might just waive my no-laptop rule if there were a student in the class who needed a laptop as an accommodation. That seems like the least-problematic solution to me.
posted by craichead at 3:59 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I asked if it was a privacy violation.

Fine. Not practically. If technically yes, then unavoidably and negligibly.
posted by cmoj at 3:59 PM on September 21, 2011


While I think that he could have handled this more diplomatically, I do not think that he violated your privacy. The very nature of your dispensation is not private, and what you seem to be asking for is some sort of meta-dispensation, whereby the professor allow the entire class to use laptops in order to preserve the privacy of your own dispensation. It's like some sort of Borges story. I know that when students bring me a dispensation to take a test in a separate room, for instance, I cannot avoid other students recognizing that difference.

However, this is really beside the point. You can and should talk to the Disability Office about this. They may be willing to talk to the professor. Of course, they may tell you that you need to have a thicker skin* about these things too.

*Your focus on how the professor feels about laptops, in general, seems to betray a bit of upset about the situation as a whole that belies your desire for only a privacy ruling. Who care how he addressed the class if what you really want to know is if he violated your privacy.
posted by OmieWise at 4:00 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Respect the privacy and confidentiality of DRC student information.
Students with disabilities have the right to remain anonymous in your class if they so choose, and information about their disabling conditions is confidential. Do not identify the student to the rest of the class without the student's express permission. For example, when recruiting a note-taker say, "a student in our class needs help from a note-taker" instead of using the student's name or identifying the student's disability.


Bellevue College's faculty guidelines, for comparison/example. Because you were the only student on a laptop, your identity as a disabled student was revealed.
posted by liketitanic at 4:00 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


He didn't mention your name or your disability. The only person that exposed you was, well....you.

Your objection is more about how he yelled at the class..which has nothing to do with your question...

'twas it me, I would "get over it".
posted by tomswift at 4:04 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


People with a disability will always stand out in some way. If, say, you were using a wheelchair, crutches, or other very visible special equipment, you would not be able to keep that private. Same here.

Let me share a couple of experiences from back in the dark ages of the 60s.

First, a legally blind student in a mathematics class went to class with an assistant who would describe for him, very quietly, what was being written on the board. Prof notices them talking, blows stack, asking why they're talking. "I'm blind, sir, and this is my interpreter explaining what you're writing on the board."

Second, in the middle of a lecture course taught by a world-renowned psychology prof, kid has a grand-mal seizure pretty much in the front row. Prof tells someone to call paramedics, goes over and helps stabilize the kid. After the kid is carried out of the hall, prof proceeds to use this as a teaching moment and delivers a brilliant lecture on epilepsy. Did he violate the kid's privacy by telling the class what just happened?

My feeling: in both cases, everybody learned something. Same in your case. You can hide the condition sometimes, but when you can't, use it to do some good by letting people know about it. A situation like yours might best be discussed with the prof in advance: "OK, so you're going to give me permission to use the laptop, but others are going to question that, so lets discuss how to handle that."
posted by beagle at 4:07 PM on September 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


He could have said nothing and let -me- (an adult) handle the questions in my own way, which would have made it my choice, and I could have assessed each question individually.

Students generally don't ask these kinds of questions of their classmates prefering instead to bitch and moan in private; complain to the program head/Dean; and give poor performance reviews because of percieved favourtism.

And unless your instructor revealed the specific details of your disability your privacy hasn't been violated because it will be obvious to anyone paying attention that you either have a DRC dispensation or are blackmailing your instructor. The instructor being all mysterious about who has a dispensation isn't going to magically hide the existance of your open laptop.
posted by Mitheral at 4:07 PM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


It was technically a privacy violation, but not enough to be worth raising a stink about. He could have handled the situation better, but at the end of the day, it was still inescapable that you had a laptop and others did not.

Pick your battles wisely.
posted by Sticherbeast at 4:08 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


[Folks, lay off the "thin skin" stuff, please. There's an answerable question here about privacy issues in a college setting, focusing on answering that or not is pretty much the way to go, giving the asker a hard time not so much.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 4:15 PM on September 21, 2011 [11 favorites]


I asked if it was a privacy violation

It was very probably a FERPA violation. Which is actually serious business, and you would not be a bad person for telling the disability-services people that it happened, that it has negatively affected you, and that you are concerned about your FERPA rights being violated.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:16 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


Ok, I've figured out how I would deal with this, were I the prof. I would put a note on the syllabus that said that laptops were not permitted unless students had a valid, documented reason to need one. That's similar to the language I use for late papers. I can't think of any documentable reason other than a disability that a student might need a laptop, but it's non-specific, and it would head off students who just wanted to use a laptop.
posted by craichead at 4:19 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


No, I don't think it was a privacy violation, because he didn't mention your name or specify your disability. As you yourself say, you're the only person in that class permitted to use a laptop, so it would be obvious who the one permitted student is --- the only way to keep your DRC status from the rest of the class would be to place each and every one of the students in some sort of cubicles that ensured total privacy from the view of every OTHER student.
posted by easily confused at 4:20 PM on September 21, 2011


Holy shit have you gotten some terrible, ignorant, and callous "advice" when all you asked for was an answer.

To actually answer your goddamn question: Yes your FERPA rights were violated. Blatantly and with callous disregard for them. I'm staring right at the material given to me by my university that states explicitly that what your professor did was illegal and both he and the department are liable.

Specifically, your professor connected you to your confidential educational records, which is, among other things, a violation of federal law. According to the courts it does not matter if your name was not specifically mentioned (your identity was plainly not inscrutable, which only matters in specific situations anyway), it does not matter if anyone thinks you should "get over it", it does not matter how much the professor revealed about the nature of your disability (every aspect of the communications he has received from the college about your disability are educational records), all that matters is that he fucked up, violated federal law and common decency, and both he and the department are now liable. I would absolutely make both him and the department at least act like it, and have for my own disabled self before.

FERPA is complicated and has all kinds of non-obvious caveats to rules that are pretty subtle to begin with. Please listen to the actual academic in this thread telling you that this is in fact worth taking seriously if you want to.

And for all the idiots in this thread trying to imagine what they would do in this fuckhead's shoes, he didn't need to invent the wheel, all this shit has already been figured out. He has no doubt been given many many opportunities to learn.
posted by Blasdelb at 4:24 PM on September 21, 2011 [60 favorites]


Oh, and the prof was an asshat. This is really, really easy to deal with.

"Class, you know that I do not ordinarily allow laptops, because I'm just a caveman, and your technology frightens and confuses me. As it happens, at least one student in the class has a documented condition for which an appropriate accommodation is electronic copies of notes. I have asked FritoKAL to take notes for that student or students, and she has agreed."

Or, just say nothing and ask students who aren't FritoKAL to put away their laptops.

The students would not have asked you why you got to use a laptop, they would have asked him why you got the exception.

...and the professor should have replied, "I cannot legally discuss matters affecting one student with other students." That's it.

Either he faces the wrath of the rest of the class for perceived unfair treatment

...so he faces it. Part of the job, plain and simple.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:26 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


To cut off any more "Well what else should he have done?" queries, this is college. He could have said nothing and let -me- (an adult) handle the questions in my own way, which would have made it my choice, and I could have assessed each question individually.

That doesn't seem viable to me from the professor's perspective. All the students put their laptops away, then see that you have yours open. Someone is going to say something. You're suggesting that the right thing to do is to put you on the spot, force you to answer that in front of a class full of people? To me, that would be the obviously inappropriate thing to do, and potentially very traumatic for a student.

I think you professor handled the situation relatively well. He didn't say what your disability was, merely that you had an exemption to the general rule. That's something that you could not hide from the class, without making the professor look like he's playing favourites. The reality of your situation is that if you want special dispensation, you have to be prepared to be publicly identified as having received special dispensation. Not the reason why - which he did not offer - but simply the fact that he's not ruling by fiat, or letting your rule-breaking slide because he thinks you're cute, or whatever other inference students are going to draw.
posted by Dasein at 4:27 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]



FERPA is complicated and has all kinds of non-obvious caveats to rules that are pretty subtle to begin with. Please listen to the actual academic in this thread telling you that this is in fact worth taking seriously if you want to.


This.

I don't understand why people get so tetchy when folks with disabilities expect to have their rights respected and the law enforced.
posted by liketitanic at 4:30 PM on September 21, 2011 [20 favorites]


He didn't violate your privacy. He didn't want everyone else in the class using their laptops, knowing full well they could be used for any number of non-work activities, and had to address why you were allowed yours, which he did by telling people the truth. If you want to pursue this and get him into trouble then you probably could but I don't see what good that would do you.
posted by joannemullen at 4:30 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Either he faces the wrath of the rest of the class for perceived unfair treatment

...so he faces it. Part of the job, plain and simple.


Wait...what?! Imagine this from another students' perspective: the professor forces you to put away a laptop. You ask why that other girl can have hers open. The professor replies, "I make the rules in this course, and that's all I'm going to say. Follow the rules or leave the class." Your next trip is to the dean to deal with a grossly unfair and unprofessional class environment, and the professor's reputation as a fair teacher, built up over years, is ruined. No, sorry, that's just not fair to the professor or the other students. A basic explanation - that some students have received a medical pass - is necessary and appropriate.
posted by Dasein at 4:30 PM on September 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


FritoKAL: "I asked if it was a privacy violation. Please, answer that question..."

No. I work in sped and there are often clear-cut obvious cases where a student is allowed accommodations that others aren't. Generally, what good teachers say when something like this comes up is, "Some students are allowed to use ______ in class; they know who they are."
posted by kinetic at 4:36 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Prof: Johnny, I've told you for the last time to put your laptop away.
Johnny: OK, but why does FritoKAL get to keep using his laptop?
Prof: I cannot confirm or deny any allegations as to FritoKAL's use of his/her laptop.
Johnny: Well, I guess that's what happens when you sleep around for your grade.

-or-

Prof: Call, put your laptop away.
...
Prof: Bobby, that includes you.
Bobby: Sorry, I don't see why I'm being singled out here.
Prof: No, you're not.
Bobby: Yes, I am.
Prof: No, you're not, put it away or leave the room.
Bobby: I'm leaving alright, I'm going to the department chair with this.
(this could get especially hairy if Bobby is a minority and maybe has a father who is a lawyer or maybe just a dad who is an alum and has donated a bunch of money)

...

Bobby: I'm being singled out for having a laptop while other students aren't.
Dept. Chair: Well, I'll have to look into that, could you tell me what professor is singling you out?
Bobby: Mr. Prof.
Dept. Chair: OK, I'll get back to you by next week. Are you seeking to make a formal complaint at this time?
Bobby: You're right I am, I was told to leave class, a class I've paid good money for.
Dept. Chair: OK. This will go to the dean of students and HR and will be put in this prof's file for the duration of his career.

...

Bobby: Well Mr. Chair, have you resolved the issue?
Dept. Chair: I can confirm that you were not being singled out but I am not at liberty to say any more. Should you feel further action is warranted, please CC the university's attorney's office with any further complaints of discrimination. Enjoy your classes!
So basically you would prefer the dialog to go this way? Sure, this isn't what happened, but this is what you'd expect to happen should a student decide that he's tired of different rules for different people and make it an issue.

If you actually wanted your identity as a person who is allowed to use a laptop secret, the college would need to either (a) put you behind a curtain so no one could see your laptop use or (b) set up various decoy laptop users who would take laptops to class but not use them, but feign using them. Since neither are likely, it seems pretty impossible for your disability to remain anonymous. This would be akin to having a student who is for some reason allowed more time on exams remain anonymous. If the same student leaves the room for each exam to go take them elsewhere, people will catch up. What are you going to do, require people put on blinders and everyone sit in the room staring at their desks long after they've finished while one person sneaks back in quietly and once he/she is finished and only then can everyone leave?
posted by Brian Puccio at 4:42 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


1) Sympathy. You were on the reviving end of a response to a no-win situation.


2) Assuming your college makes its disability procedure public, your privacy was not violated. If your class had behaved properly and noone but you used a laptop, a reasonable person could infer your disability. A verbal restatement of public policy is not discriminatory.

3) In my experience it's very unlikely your prof wanted this to happen, and will be disappointed that his actions resulted in you feeling victimised. That doesn't excuse the end result.

If it were my class and this had happened, I would appreciate it if the student emailed or contacted me to explain how my actions had inadvertently left you feeling discriminated against. I could then apologise, confirm a lack of intent if that was required by the student, and pre-empticely adjust my course materials (and the wording if my response to one of the versions above) in the future.
posted by cromagnon at 4:43 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


To be fair, "I cannot legally discuss matters affecting one student with other students" is not the same set of words as "I make the rules in this course, and that's all I'm going to say. Follow the rules or leave the class." Those are different sentences that mean different things.

Your next trip is to the dean to deal with a grossly unfair and unprofessional class environment

I would expect so. And, after an email conversation, the complaining student would most likely be told that... privacy law dictates that matters relating to one student cannot be disclosed to another.

professor's reputation as a fair teacher, built up over years, is ruined

His reputation with students is less important than the legal protections accorded student privacy.

He does not have a right to a good reputation with students.

FritoKAL, like all students, does have a legally established right not to have personal information disclosed against her wishes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:44 PM on September 21, 2011 [14 favorites]


Yes, he violated the terms that most educational institutions operate under. The fact that he has a neurosis about laptops is not your problem. He caused the problem by creating a blanket ban.


My feeling: in both cases, everybody learned something. Same in your case.

It's a math class. It is not the professor's job to teach the student "some people have a callous disregard for your private information."
posted by Phalene at 4:50 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


So basically you would prefer the dialog to go this way? Sure, this isn't what happened, but this is what you'd expect to happen should a student decide that he's tired of different rules for different people and make it an issue.

I don't see anything wrong with that dialogue. The student is reassured that no improper discrimination has taken place, and no protected information is revealed.

If you actually wanted your identity as a person who is allowed to use a laptop secret

The fact that FritoKAL is using a laptop is unavoidably public. The reasons for that are not.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:51 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


This thread is a mess, I'm sorry you're receiving all of these terrible responses and people are getting butthurt by you calling them out on it. To be completely honest, if a professor said that at a class I was sitting in, I would feel awful for you and angered at his lack of regard for your privacy.

People can keep coming up with all the dumb little scenarios they want to that would have rendered your preference that people ask you about you, but this could have been handled a lot more eloquently, a lot more easily and he was not at all in any sort of corner to respond the way he did.

You'd think that a professor in a publicly run school would have more training on sensitivity than that. Was he just bent that it kept happening every class?
posted by june made him a gemini at 4:51 PM on September 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


FritoKAL, like all students, does have a legally established right not to have personal information disclosed against her wishes.

Her personal information was not disclosed. That you are being accomodated in some way is public information, when the accomodation takes place in front of a room full of people. The specific medical disability for which you are being accomodated is what is private.

I particularly like how a person's reputation - the most important thing any person has in their professional life - now counts for nothing against the most rigid possible interpretation of disability law. This is precisely the way to turn people against reasonable accomodation for disabled students - make it as unreasonable and self-righteous as possible.
posted by Dasein at 4:53 PM on September 21, 2011 [26 favorites]


INYL, TINLA. Without more facts, it would be hard to show how this violated your privacy. If you want a legal opinion, you should speak to an attorney about your rights. The most likely sources of your rights to privacy in California are the California Constitution (Art I, Section 1), as well as the California Medical Information Act and HIPAA. The latter two have specific application only to certain kinds of folks, but I'm not aware of anything that makes them applicable to a college professor.

The other thing that makes this dubious is that the professor has not said anything that would not have been noticed by the other students or could not have been stated legitimately as, "Students can't have laptops open in my class except for those who have a legitimate reason such as a reasonable accommodation for as disability." Stating that you have authorization is not necessarily an invasive, or if it is, it sounds trivial. Things would seem different to me if he actually specified your diagnosis or gave more detailed information.

I do agree that your professor is an insensitive clod who might benefit from some education as to how to approach this issue in the future. It would have been better for him to simply say that there are some general categories of students allowed to use laptops and that he won't allow them without prior approval based on a legitimate reason. He could follow by inviting students who have not already obtained authorization to talk to him after class, e-mail him, etc. If the professor is the reasonable sort, OP can probably just gently clue him in.
posted by Hylas at 4:54 PM on September 21, 2011


I am astonished by the ignorance of the people in this thread. Your FERPA rights were violated, hands down. Do with that as you will. What a frustrating situation.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:56 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


You'd think that a professor in a publicly run school would have more training on sensitivity than that.
Baaaaa.

Sorry. I've worked at three different universities over the past ten years, and I had my first training on anything related to disability within the past month. (And it was super-vague and was mostly comprised of people pointing out that faculty are generally pretty clueless and that students need to get really good at advocating for themselves.) And I actually wasn't trained on anything to do with FERPA when I was TAing and adjuncting, which in retrospect seems pretty shocking, but there you go.
The most likely sources of your rights to privacy in California are the California Constitution (Art I, Section 1), as well as the California Medical Information Act and HIPAA.
No, as other people have pointed out, the issue here is with FERPA.
posted by craichead at 4:58 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


After reading Blasdelb's comment, I called the DRC office at my campus and talked to my counselor who happened to be free. He's awesome.

In short, because the professor singled me out by elimination and indicated that I was a DRC student, it is a privacy violation. Had he not mentioned that fact, it would be a grey area but not specifically a violation. According to them, my record as a DRC student is private and they do give professors advice on how to handle the "But (student A) gets to do (a thing) the rest of the class doesn't" without informing the class that it is a DRC issue.

Their suggestion is to say something like "I can't go into detail. Speak to me in private if you feel like you need the same (thing)". This way, according to the DRC, students who -do- need (things) are directed to the proper office and the students who do not are told it is a matter of privacy. I was also told it is my right to tell anyone who asks me that it's "none of their business" and if they believe I'm being given privilegs unfairly that they can complaint to (insert governing body here).

My counselor is going to speak to the professor, advise him that students' status as needing DRC accommodation is between the student, the DRC and the professor and that he is not to announce to the class in any fashion that I or any other student is using the DRC facilities.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:00 PM on September 21, 2011 [37 favorites]


Also, if this is this professor's policy and he has no issue being vocal about it -- why isn't it in the syllabus? Why isn't it on a banner in the wall? Why couldn't he just tell them to put their laptops away and leave it at that instead of even bringing the possibility of you having a disability into the picture. THAT is where he messed up.

And if a student was so offended they asked the professor why they couldn't use the laptop but the OP could? Have the professor tell the student on a one-on-one basis that the OP is in a situation that warrants it. That's it. That's all he has to say.

It was always very apparent to me (and I assumed my classmates) as to why someone in the front or back of the room was able to use tools other students weren't allowed to, and no one had to ask questions. It speaks volumes about our society and our education system that this is even a situation.
posted by june made him a gemini at 5:02 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Their suggestion is to say something like "I can't go into detail. Speak to me in private if you feel like you need the same (thing)".

See, I'm struggling to see the difference between saying that you are a student who requires accomodation and implying exactly the same thing. I mean, I guess there is a difference in wording, but presumably students will understand that you're being accomodated for a disability one way or the other. I can see that an oblique wording might be preferable: "You can speak to me if you feel you need special accomodation, otherwise close your laptops." Okay, that's more subtle, but it still leaves everyone around you in no doubt that you are receiving special accomodation. What about speaking the letters "DRC" changes this from legal to illegal?
posted by Dasein at 5:06 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


What about speaking the letters "DRC" changes this from legal to illegal?

Whether or not people can "guess" that one has a disability, faculty are in violation of FERPA when they disclose a student's disabilities without consent.
posted by liketitanic at 5:08 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


when they disclose a student's disabilities

And we return to the same point: her disability was not disclosed.
posted by Dasein at 5:09 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I asked a question, I did not ask for comments on my 'thin skin'. I did not ask for what you think the professor should or should not have done. I asked if it was a privacy violation. Please, answer that question and refrain from comments on your perception of my emotional reaction.

Oh, you poor thing...you must be new here in the land of bastards.

To answer your question:

1. Yes he totally did something inappropriate, rude, and maybe even illegal.
2. You got singled out about it...but it would only have taken a few days for all the students to figure out that you were using a laptop even if the keys are silent and you are sitting behind everyone. This is not mission impossible, you are in class with a laptop, they will see you.

So yeah, but what happens now is what do you want to do about it? What do you need to do to feel whole about this?

I think an adult like you could appreciate the approach of going up to the professor during office hours and saying "i felt singled out because of my condition, and i didn't appreciate it". I would totally do this before getting asshole administrators involved. YES, they might help, but you should only go to them after you speak with the lecturer and don't get anywhere.

Do not get administrators involved before dealing with just the professor. He may have been having a really off day, or just messed up, or something.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:09 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


What about speaking the letters "DRC" changes this from legal to illegal?

According to the awesomesauce people at the DRC, it discloses that I have a disability, and that fact alone is enough to make it a privacy violation. I could be using the laptop for any number of reasons.

Yes, people with visible disabilities are automatically disclosing, but that fact does not make it necessary for everyone with a disability to be forced to disclose, especially since many disabilities carry a stigma in some societies.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:10 PM on September 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


My counselor is going to speak to the professor, advise him that students' status as needing DRC accommodation is between the student, the DRC and the professor and that he is not to announce to the class in any fashion that I or any other student is using the DRC facilities.

Disregard my advice, since you took this route.

May I ask why did you not turn to them in the first place since you are obviously aware of their work on campus?
posted by hal_c_on at 5:11 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I particularly like how a person's reputation - the most important thing any person has in their professional life - now counts for nothing against the most rigid possible interpretation of disability law.

A professor's reputation among his or her peers is indeed important. His or her reputation among undergraduates is not.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:12 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


And we return to the same point: her disability was not disclosed.

The fact of the disability was disclosed. That is AS ILLEGAL as disclosing the specific disability. "told the entire class that there was only one person permitted to use their laptop because they had a DRC dispensation"--and Frito was that one student quite clearly. The point of this stuff is not that no one ever figures out that someone else has a disability. It is that people in authority do not disclose information that they are not entitled to disclose.
posted by liketitanic at 5:14 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


hal_c_on - that's a private matter between me and the DRC and my professor and I'm not comfortable disclosing the details. All you need to know is that there are documented reasons I wasn't comfortable going to the DRC immediately.

See how well that works?

(actually I just didn't think it -was- a privacy violation at first but it made me feel weird and I don't like being a gigantic pest about the DRC because they're overworked and underpaid, so I wanted a little bit of backup before I went bugging them)
posted by FritoKAL at 5:14 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dispensation

a : an exemption from a law or from an impediment, vow, or oath
b : a formal authorization

In effect, merely by looking at you and seeing that you are the only person who was not barred from using laptop, everyone in class who has a pair of eyes, (or one eye, Arrr); EFFECTIVELY knows that you have a dispensation.

If you prefer, you can see it as ALL students violated your privacy by being able to look at you.

He merely cleared up possible confusion / questions of the sort like "Professor, did you not notice that this one girl keeps using a laptop on the sly?" / "Professor, is this girl using a special laptop with a quiet keyboard or some other feature that makes it ok to use?"

Dispensation in this context merely means "Yes, I see that and it's fine with me / authorized for unspecified reason(s)".
posted by rainy at 5:15 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


A dispensation from the DISABILITY RESOURCE CENTER makes clear the nature of this dispensation, and the experts she works with agree that her privacy was violated.
posted by liketitanic at 5:16 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


On preview: never mind (read about DRC thing). Still, in my view, I can't see how it would not be worse for your privacy if the class was left guessing and inquiring about the laptop for the next 5 minutes, and after the class, it sounds to me like the professor made the judgement call to have minimal violation to your privacy given the circumstances.
posted by rainy at 5:21 PM on September 21, 2011


I can't see how it would not be worse for your privacy if the class was left guessing and inquiring about the laptop for the next 5 minutes, and after the class, it sounds to me like the professor made the judgement call to have minimal violation to your privacy given the circumstances.

But the law can't stop people from guessing. It does not promise total privacy. And that's not the point. The law CAN, however, rule how individuals use information they have.

And a professor who has control of a classroom does not automatically need to subject a student who needs privacy to five minutes of speculation by other students.
posted by liketitanic at 5:23 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ok, if what he said was "only one person has a dispensation" and only one person kept their laptop open, I don't see how that's really any different from saying "only people with a dispensation can use their laptop" and then only one person has their laptop open. This seems like an issue of semantics to me. It takes a lawyer to unravel this, not your typical community college math professor.

**Just because someone has a different opinion doesn't necessarily make them assholes. Several people who know me don't think I'm an asshole, and I have a different opinion than you.

***Also, just because a professor doesn't allow laptops in the classroom doesn't mean the guy hates technology or some nonsense. Most people would agree it would be rude of a student to be playing solitaire (with cards) at their desk. Isn't it equally rude if they're playing it (or Facebooking, or searching for cocktail dresses, or IMing friends -- all of which I've seen) on the computer in class??? I've sat at the back of classrooms, and believe me, that crap is what the kids are doing 90% of the time.
posted by imalaowai at 5:26 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


We can argue semantics all say long, but most disabled people who need special accommodations or have disabilities that are noticeable by others will obviously not have the type of privacy that OP is talking about.

I have a disability that is seen by others as me being lazy, tired, late, taking time off, etc.
I actually prefer to speak about it and educate people since there are people out there that think a disability requires a wheelchair or a cane.

OP, I know you may have felt embarrassed even though eyes would have been upon you anyway, but perhaps you can speak with someone else at your school about how you are having difficulty dealing with your disability and the embarrassing scenarios it produces for you. You may say, "if the teacher didn't make ot obvious, I wouldn't have to deal with it!"
But let's get real - you were the only person with a laptop open.
posted by KogeLiz at 5:30 PM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


But the law can't stop people from guessing. It does not promise total privacy. And that's not the point. The law CAN, however, rule how individuals use information they have.

Well, the law could require that every student is in a separate booth so that nobody else can see if you're under a dispensation. The law could also bar professor from disallowing laptops if anyone has a dispensation. But the law does not do that because the spirit of the law is to stop violations of privacy when it's not already effectively violated by circumstances. It's just that the law can't outline every conceivable set of circumstances because there's not enough paper produced in the world by all paper mills we have operating.
posted by rainy at 5:34 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


The information revealed didn't seem any more personal than, say, pointing out your hair color. The nature of the disability leaves yhou in a position that is not exactly private. Still, his manner was gruff. I'm not sure his offense warrants any more than a finger wagging from a superior. The sin and the harm simply don't seem great enough.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:40 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


KogeLiz, I am not having difficulty dealing with my disability and I'd appreciate if you didn't insinuate that I was. I'm dealing with it just fine, seeing as I'm getting A's and B's and I usually feel comfortable going "Oh, yeah, I need to pop over to the DRC and get my paperwork.". But that is my choice, my information to share, and my decision about whether or not I feel like someone would take it well.

I wasn't embarrassed that I was the sole laptop user. I was embarrassed that he singled me out as a -DRC student- -without my explicit consent-.

What I am not cool with is having my decision to disclose taken away from me. Maybe I didn't feel like educating him today. Maybe I'm tired and my back hurts and I'm hungry and it's my right to decide if I want to talk to him or if I want to have the DRC do it.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:40 PM on September 21, 2011 [13 favorites]


Yes, the prof messed up and should not have specifically said you had a disability accommodation. He should have instead said something like "put your laptops away unless you've already cleared needing to use a laptop with me", which makes it not quite as obvious, but still obvious that you are getting Special Permission to do something.

Unfortunately, though, if you're in a class that doesn't allow laptops except in special circumstances, the only way to make sure you are not even implicitly disclosed as a "special circumstance" is not to use the laptop. That sucks, but some disabilities (or accommodations thereof) are impossible to keep private.
posted by nakedmolerats at 5:42 PM on September 21, 2011


To recap for those of you not reading the thread and because I clearly love beating dead horses.

1. Yes it was a privacy violation. People here and the experts said so. You may cease trying to tell me it is not a privacy violation.
2. I marked this as resolved so you can proceed to cease saying it is not a privacy violation.
3. I already have what I want, the DRC is going to talk to the prof about this being a privacy violation.
4. I asked because I wasn't sure and I don't like going into the DRC without knowing because they are overworked like whoa and I couldn't find the information via a google search.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:47 PM on September 21, 2011 [10 favorites]


The prof can easily imply that certain students are allowed to take notes without identifying a disability. E.g. by announcing: "This course has a no laptop policy without my permission; if you believe you need a laptop in class you must first come talk to me in my office". Then prof can shout "laptops closed!" at any time, and if someone says "what about Johnny?" prof says "Johnny talked to me earlier, it's okay. Everyone else laptops closed!"

Those who don't get why this is a big deal should use their heads for a second and try to imagine why OP is upset. There is a stigma to being identified as 'disabled', whatever that may mean in practice, and once outed a person is forever labelled, with all the discrimination and preconceptions and outsider status that come with it. If you really don't see a problem you are not trying hard enough.

Try this on for size and imagine this is you:

Ah ah, back in your seats! There is only one person in this classroom who is allowed to leave early, and that's because he has an embarrassing medical condition!

It's private information, right? The class can plainly see that you are getting up and leaving in violation of the prof's rules, but if they protest all prof has to do is say "it's ok, Johnny talked to me earlier, now back in your seats". The two responses are night and day.
posted by PercussivePaul at 5:47 PM on September 21, 2011 [19 favorites]


I'm coming into this way late, but, as you've pointed out he's in the wrong (and probably knows it), but I think you're being too hard on the guy. My first response was to think 'Well, what else can he say?' Halfway through the comments I realised the correct answer was 'Unless you've received dispensation, put your laptop away.' The guy was angry and he screwed up in a fairly mild way. (I say fairly mild as, let's face it, most people would probably jump to the assumption of a disability when they saw you still had a laptop out. It's a community college math class--there are going to be very few students equipped to effectively use a laptop in class, so you have to be 'special' in some way. I couldn't TeX a lecture at that level (at least not without doing a lot of formatting afterwards) and that's the only way I could use a laptop in a math class.)

When you get thrown off while teaching, you end up saying the wrong thing, be it the undiplomatic thing or the false thing. For example, a student asked me a question in class that made it clear they wanted/expected me to derail the lesson to discuss another topic. I was too busy boggling at them to say anything but 'We're not talking about that now.' The 'correct' answer would have been to say 'We're not talking about that now, but you're welcome to discuss it with me in office hours.' And then I spent a long time playing that exchange over and over worrying they'll complain about it on the course evaluations. I guess what I'm saying is that if I were your instructor, I'd probably manage a similar screw up, but I'd email you or come up to you after class and apologise.

I've had students with disability accommodations that must be obvious to their classmates. When I get handed the accommodation letter, it includes some threatening verbiage about privacy, so I've wondered what the heck I'm supposed to do if another student confronts or questions me about it. 'It's none of your business' honestly would just either exacerbate the confrontation, if it's a confrontation, or implicitly out the student as having a disability.
posted by hoyland at 5:48 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


Maybe someone said this already, but here's my question for those of you siding with the professor:

Why couldn't the professor have just said, "My policy is not to allow laptop use in class."

If anyone asks, "But why does FritoKAL get to use a laptop?" professor can then say, "FritoKAL has cleared it with me."

If the students say, "But why did you allow FritoKAL to use his laptop?" Professor then goes into broken record mode: "Listen, FritoKAL cleared it with me, and that's the end of the discussion."

Sometimes people in authority positions have to ACT like authorities. If that leaves the students with questions, so-effin-what? They are not owed a full, detailed, truthful account of why FritoKAL is allowed to use a laptop. Why couldn't the professor have been the responsible adult here and said the minimum possible? What the professor did was pretty inexchusable.
posted by jayder at 5:50 PM on September 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


In my opinion, if you want something to come of this, you should talk to the prof himself. I speculate the result of the DRC talking to him will be an email that he will delete without reply; he may not even remember the incident and it will seem like an overreaction to him. A simple "hey, that made me kind of uncomfortable, could you refrain from specifically referencing any disabilities in the future?" will make your point much better than the DRC can.

I speak publicly and semi-extemporaneously for 300 minutes/week as a prof. Not everything comes out as mellifluously as I would like ex post. Sure he should have said nothing, and then "X cleared it with me" if anyone asked, but he didn't.
posted by deadweightloss at 5:53 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Why couldn't the professor have been the responsible adult here and said the minimum possible? What the professor did was pretty inexchusable.

You're right - those words would have been a better way to deal with it. Going from that to "inexcusable" is where I think you lose a lot of people in the thread - it was an error, perhaps, but made out of no malice and didn't actually tell people anything more than they could have guessed - the OP has some kind of disability that is being accomodated.
posted by Dasein at 5:53 PM on September 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


This is infuriating me. Too hard on the guy? He is a professional. It is is job as an instructor to understand the laws by which his classroom must abide. He handled that situation without grace and with that comes repercussions. People with disabilities have the utmost right to determine when and where they discuss the nature of their situation and to whom that conversation goes.

It was a FERPA violation. Take this semantics arguing to Chat. My god.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 5:54 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


hoyland - In my experience, my classmates when -not- told I have a disability often assume I'm actually using the laptop to record the lesson for someone else or that I'm using it for something relating to the tutoring centers.

Rarely (as in once in three semesters worth of classes plus summer sessions) have I had someone ask if I needed any other assistance for a disability and that was -another DRC student-.
posted by FritoKAL at 5:54 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


jayder: because a reasonable assumption is that a privacy-sensitive person would prefer not to have classes' attention focused on him in this manner. It may well be that the prof wanted to cut off prying questions in the bud by disclosing the minimum of what would already be fairly obvious. There's law and there's common sense.
posted by rainy at 5:57 PM on September 21, 2011


A professor's reputation among his or her peers is indeed important. His or her reputation among undergraduates is not.
I'm not sure that's true of any untenured professor. But even if it is, it's definitely not true of community college instructors, most of whom are adjuncts and all of whom are hired and retained based on teaching, not on their research credentials.
posted by craichead at 5:58 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't have time to read all 94 comments here, but I work in a university and I can tell you when my faculty receive letters regarding disabilities, it is very clear what needs to be allowed for the disability and that this is highly confidential information.

If a professor at my university pulled something like this, Disability Services would be all over their ass about it not to mention issuing a university wide statement reminding all employees of the necessity to maintain the strictest of confidentiality when it comes to disabilities.

And as I recall, Disability Services can't even inform the professor what the disability is, just what it relates to and what appropriate compensations to take.

Your professor absolutely violated your privacy, possibly the law, and if other students asked why you would get to use a laptop and they can't, he should have either kept his mouth shut or said simply, "This is something that is not up for discussion" rather than outing you as having a disability.

It may be post partum hormones raging inside me right now, but I'm really angry on your behalf and urge you to take this up with your Disability Services officer and your Dean of Students office.
posted by zizzle at 6:14 PM on September 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


june made him a gemini writes "Also, if this is this professor's policy and he has no issue being vocal about it -- why isn't it in the syllabus? Why isn't it on a banner in the wall? Why couldn't he just tell them to put their laptops away and leave it at that instead of even bringing the possibility of you having a disability into the picture. THAT is where he messed up. "

It probably is in the syllabus. It probably isn't on the wall because unless it is a department policy or he is the only one using the room he doesn't have the ability to hang stuff from the walls. However many students don't read the syllabus and don't pay attention to instruction and they'd just ignore wall postings (and postings on the door; and postings on stairwell doors; and postings on elevator doors; and login messages; and messages displayed on their desktop wall paper; and messages that pop up in a dialogue box every five minutes for 30 minutes; and email messages; and messages broadcast over public address systems; and FWIW, alarm bells. MefiMail me for dozens of examples). And unlike items in the syllabus that are there to cover the instructor's ass when a student complains that they didn't get the mark they think they deserve this is an issue that effects everyone not just the slackers. Hence the need to be aggressive with enforcement.
posted by Mitheral at 6:42 PM on September 21, 2011


It's not in the syllabus. I just checked.
posted by FritoKAL at 6:43 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am amazed at how fucked up and ignorant this thread still is. The situation the professor "found himself in" is one he has no doubt already received training in, already knows the expectations for, and is fully aware of how maintaining compliance with FERPA regulations is one of the central aspects of his job.

This thread seems pretty cleanly divided between people with no experience with college level teaching or disability rights and people with it. This professor unambiguously violated federal law and brought his institution out of compliance. Neither of these things are ok, regardless of how he is plainly a fucking asshole.

Frito_KAL, if you are upset enough for it to be worth it you should be able to totally get your councilor's help in drafting a letter to either your department chair or dean of students about the matter. They might not want to do it, having to deal with the professor for longer than you will have to, but should anyway and it will send a message that would be harder to ignore.

Also, thank you for all of your awesomeness in this thread.

"INYL, TINLA. Without more facts, it would be hard to show how this violated your privacy. If you want a legal opinion, you should speak to an attorney about your rights. The most likely sources of your rights to privacy in California are the California Constitution (Art I, Section 1), as well as the California Medical Information Act and HIPAA. The latter two have specific application only to certain kinds of folks, but I'm not aware of anything that makes them applicable to a college professor."

"Better to keep your mouth closed and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt" HIPAA does not even come close to making sense to apply here, there is however established Federal Law related to FERPA which plainly makes this illegal.
posted by Blasdelb at 6:48 PM on September 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


i am an adjunct and have gotten my share of these notices... most of the time just explaining the special accommodation you have to meet for the student. Further, they will tell if it is confidential, sometimes including the issue, and if you can talk to the teacher about it... my students normally give it to me at the end of the first class, and i'll follow up in person or via email. I've had to make sure a student had more time for tests, so i talked to the student and worked out a solution... but all in private.


Information about the Faculty Contact Sheet


A Faculty Contact Sheet (FCS) will be developed by the student and the director of Disability Support Services. It will be used by the student in seeking accommodations from an instructor based on a documented disability. It is the student’s responsibility to meet with the director of DSS every semester to discuss and receive their individualized Faculty Contact Sheet. The student is responsible for notifying instructors of needed accommodations using the FCS. DSS strongly recommends that the student notify instructors during the first two weeks of the semester.

Except in special cases when test results are pending, the FCS summarizes official documentation provided to the DSS office by the student. This form must be signed by both the student and the director. The original is kept on file in the DSS office and copies provided to the student for distribution.

DSS discourages the student from simply "dropping off" the form to the instructor. The student and instructor have mutual responsibility for discussing and arranging accommodations. DSS recommends that the student and instructor thoroughly discuss each item on this form in a private, confidential meeting. Based on the recommended accommodations cited on the FCS and the specific course requirements, the student and instructor should formulate a plan for implementing effective, reasonable accommodations. As much as possible, this plan should be specific. (Example: "Extended time testing will take place in the Test Center, to be taken the same time as the rest of the class, with time and a half allowed.")

DSS suggests putting the plan in writing, with both student and instructor signing and receiving a copy. DSS provides a Faculty-Student Contract for optional use during meetings whre students present Faculty Contact Sheets. This contract will be kept on file in the DSS office to provide clarification throughout the semester. As needed, the plan may be revised by mutual consent.
posted by fozzie33 at 7:33 PM on September 21, 2011


I'm just jumping into to chime in as someone who teaches at the college level (for future posterity of this thread): those in this thread who are academics and/or experienced with disability services are the ones with the correct answer. He should not have connected you to your DRC dispensation. End of story.
posted by vivid postcard at 7:35 PM on September 21, 2011 [6 favorites]


I am a privacy specialist, and work with disability advocates on a regular basis, but in a different country. I don't know the law in Cali, and haven't taken the time to review it. But here's my perspective.

Last Wednesday in my math course, my professor yelled* at the class for having laptops out. Today he told the class sternly that everyone had to put their laptops away and then told the entire class that there was only one person permitted to use their laptop because they had a DRC dispensation. Since I am now the only person with the laptop open in class, my entire class now knows that I am that special case -and- that I'm a DRC student.


1. As a general rule, Prof. should not disclose your disability, or a fact that you have a disability, unless he must (to do his job, or because of some requirement or other) or he has your permission.

2. I can't see why he would have to tell the class that there was a student with a DRC exception. He could have just said - "unless you've already worked it out with me, put your laptops away". Ultimately, there's no way of keeping it quiet that you are a special case - it's obvious because you are allowed to use the laptop. But the *reason* that you are a special case, that should have been kept confidential. He revealed it. And because there was only one exception - you - it's clear that that student with the exception and a disability is you. That's absolutely not OK.

3. The milk is spilt. You can't go back, and you may have to deal with this prof. again in the future. You are best placed to judge how to approach this, but if you are able, a quiet chat with the prof. about how you don't appreciate having the fact that you have a disability revealed to your classmates may be a good idea. if he's not receptive, then talk to the University authorities and maybe go for a more formal complaint, if you feel that's necessary. But the cat's out of the bag - I think that the best you can realistically hope for is that he will change his ways in future and spare someone else the embarrassment. Consider carefully whether the bridges you would burn by taking formal legal action would be worth the potential benefits.

Feel free to memail me if you want to discuss.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:44 PM on September 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


tl:dr - absolutely a privacy violation, that could have easily been avoided. The real question is what to do about it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:46 PM on September 21, 2011


And, yeah, it was probably a stupid mistake, especially if he is a new instructor (or, think of all the poor grad students teaching their first semester who have no idea what the hell they are doing). That said, what he did was wrong. He should know about it. You don't have to run to the president of the university demanding to get him fired, but getting a letter from the DRC would be good. Especially if he had no idea that he wasn't supposed to do this. Because then he would know for future classes.
posted by vivid postcard at 7:48 PM on September 21, 2011


You could also talk to him yourself. He might have been kicking himself over this since it happened -- we're all only human. I find that talking things through with the offending party often dissipates my frustration and leads to more positive outcomes in the future on both of our parts.

I am a professor; I believe this was a violation but I also believe that we all have moments of failure and that forgiveness is a virtue. Maybe your prof is a sweet guy with extenuating circumstances (maybe he has an invisible disability, too -- or was hungry or had a backache), or maybe he's a jerk who you should pull through an administrative/legal wringer -- you'll only know for sure if you talk to him.
posted by obliquicity at 8:32 PM on September 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


I want to retract my earlier statement, it was poorly worded. yes, he handled it poorly. as was mentioned, the deed is done, the question is how to deal with it.

Best of luck, and the "get over it" comment should have been "I hope this resolves well."
posted by tomswift at 8:37 PM on September 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


My husband has a disability which requires him to type because he cannot write by hand; I am someone who is not disabled who started taking notes by computer and who has had a religious conversion to the superiority of digital notes (for storage, for access - I have never surfed in a lecture and I don't care if anyone else does - they snooze, they fail).

I totally understand the need of disabled students to use computers, but if I were one of your classmates who was denied an extremely useful tool, I would want to know why another student was allowed this. I don't think there was anyway to manage the classroom without telling the other students. I realise that this may be against American law, but frankly, denying laptops to all students based on the behaviour of a few is an assholish policy to start with and guarenteed to highlight disabled students.
posted by jb at 9:04 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Consider carefully whether the bridges you would burn by taking formal legal action would be worth the potential benefits.

Well said, and lets hope it was heard.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:21 PM on September 21, 2011


I read halfway through this thread before I realized that I'd missed the part where you said that he didn't just say you had 'dispensation,' as you said in the first paragraph, but that you specifically had a DRC dispensation. If it helps, some of the people arguing that it's no big deal might have have read as inattentively as I did.

This is extremely beside the point, many furlongs into left field, not answering your question in any way, but if it eases your mind at all, I would bet most of the people in your class don't even know what the DRC is and, if nothing is visibly "wrong" with you, are probably going to figure you have a pass for ADD or something familiar and relatively non-stigmatized.
posted by Adventurer at 9:24 PM on September 21, 2011


but if I were one of your classmates who was denied an extremely useful tool, I would want to know why another student was allowed this.

Perhaps. But your curiosity would not, in the normal course of things, trump the disabled student's right to privacy. You don't get to know the personal details about other people, just to satisfy your curiosity.

but frankly, denying laptops to all students based on the behaviour of a few is an assholish policy to start with

Agreed. The prof. is a two man douche canoe. It's 2011. Students use laptops.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:54 PM on September 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, baloney. I too am disabled and it's not the most pleasant thing in the world, but I long ago had to accept the fact that I'm going to stand out from the crowd whether I want to or not. I'm old now, but when I was younger there were no offices a person could turn to if they thought their privacy was violated in such a way - you just dealt with it and plunged on ahead, holding your head up high. I would feel differently about this if he had pointed out the exact nature of your disability, but as far as I can see he was just trying to avoid the inevitable backlash from all the other students whining about why YOU got to do something THEY didn't, and this is a college-level class, not middle-school. The professor was just trying to get on with teaching the course, which is what he's supposed to be doing. As for his yelling at the class to put their laptops away, well the truth is there are a whole lot of college professors who yell - or at least there used to be. It was part of the intimidation process that identified the separation between the educatOR and the educatEE. Think of it as a very mild dose of boot camp and just man up about it. You're by no means the only one in the class with a disability - it's just that the others don't show up with a laptop issue.

Thicken up the skin and get a good education - do it however you need to, but don't expect the big dogs to intervene just because someone pushed your buttons. Good luck to you.
posted by aryma at 12:17 AM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]


I'm probably not going to say anything new — hard to, considering the breadth of responses — but I would say that it's clear that he violated your privacy rights. However, I wouldn't assume bad faith on his part, even if he sounds like something of a jerk for other reasons (raising your voice in a college class is a bad sign). As much as it should be the case that "he's a professional, and thus he knows the professional rules," even at a large, well-funded state school there is almost no training in these matters and often not enough cases to learn from experience. I suspect that the clarity of instructions that comes from any given DRC office varies hugely from institution to institution, too. It was good of you to talk to the DRC, especially to ask them to provide education. As a sometimes-univeristy teacher, though, I would feel somewhat put out if I didn't also receive an email from the student telling me directly what was going on, but I understand your if you would have trepidation about that. And thanks for posting this — I'm pretty sure I would have handled this much better than your prof did already, but I know that I will in the future.
posted by Schismatic at 1:50 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Maybe the prof violated federal law; only lawyers can really tell you that and we all know that the law is often stupid.

How did the original poster not violate her own privacy by being the only one to use a computer in a situation in which a disability is the only conceivable reason this would be allowed?

But that's common sense, and I guess that doesn't obtain in these situations.
posted by zachawry at 3:03 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


How did the original poster not violate her own privacy by being the only one to use a computer in a situation in which a disability is the only conceivable reason this would be allowed?

But that's common sense, and I guess that doesn't obtain in these situations.


I'm sorry, but this is unmitigated bull, as are a lot of the other comments here.

I used to get these letters all the time when I taught, specifying various accommodations (eg extra test time, computer use, etc). It's no big deal to handle things gracefully, and I never once had another student ask or complain about why someone else was getting special treatment. All you have to do is say something like "unless you have another arrangement with me, please close your laptops now." That's all it takes, and unless you are sitting back there playing Doom no one is going to complain or probably even notice.

Honestly, most of the students are unaware of the disability accommodation process, and don't care if their classmate gets to keep sitting there for an extra twenty minutes to take the test, or always disappears on test days (to take the test down in the quiet room at the DSC office, say). And to reemphasize, the "common sense" part is that as the instructor, it is crazy easy to do this in the right way, without mentioning or singling out any students as being disabled, etc. The instructor sounds uninformed and clueless; most professors manage to handle this more or less ok without making any big deal out of it.
posted by Forktine at 6:20 AM on September 22, 2011 [7 favorites]


[Folks, I think the answerable-askme-question bit here has pretty much run its course and there's already been kind of too much of the arguing-about-the-topic stuff already. At this point, if you've got some material addition to the specific privacy question, fine, other than that this pretty much needs to wind down.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:55 AM on September 22, 2011 [3 favorites]


"The professor was just trying to get on with teaching the course, which is what he's supposed to be doing. As for his yelling at the class to put their laptops away, well the truth is there are a whole lot of college professors who yell - or at least there used to be. It was part of the intimidation process that identified the separation between the educatOR and the educatEE. Think of it as a very mild dose of boot camp and just man up about it. You're by no means the only one in the class with a disability - it's just that the others don't show up with a laptop issue."

OP, if you feel that this statement accurately describes your professor this would definitely be something worth mentioning to your Dean of Students or Department Chair. Intimidation has absolutely no place in a college class room, there is no meaningful rational for it, no excuse for it, and a gigantic pile of empirically demonstrated reasons why it is not an ok thing ever. It contributes to student attrition, actively interferes with learning, and only exists to prop up the fragile misaligned egos of assholes who think there are no consequences for their failure. Lecturer's who define expectations at the outset, seek feedback from students about their teaching, and encourage active participatory learning are objectively and demonstrably better than those who create a passive, much less cowed, environment. That the professor is yelling at his students is not ok, that the professor tried to use the OP's disability as another stick to keep his class "in line" is that much less ok. There are five decades of research and actively cultivated cultural experience behind the near absolute consensus among college level teaching professionals that this is beyond not ok.
posted by Blasdelb at 7:40 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


It's not your job to educate anybody about your disability. It's not your job to tell a professor how to handle a sensitive situation. Your university is responsible for helping faculty do their work without violating the law. There are many types of disability, and many different ways that individuals with disabilities need accommodation. You should not have to accept having your disability status disclosed, or being yelled at.

At the end of the course, you'll have a chance to evaluate the course and professor. Be honest; the department should resolve this problem.
posted by theora55 at 4:55 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]


Did you talk to your professor about this? He made a bad move but it seems unlikely his intentions were ill. Rather then censure him professionally, why don't you have an informed conversation with him so you can air your grievance and he can pay more attention to his behavior.
posted by fritillary at 4:56 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


My son had a similar thing for his ADD, and the prof made a similar announcement that only those students who had dispensations would be able to use laptops and the whole class turned and stared at him. So, my son told everyone how to go to the appropriate office and document their disabilities, special needs, etc..
posted by Ideefixe at 1:25 PM on September 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


The professor violated your privacy, and also needs to learn how to handle discipline in a class of adult students.

If he doesn't want laptops in his class, he puts on the syllabus, "I have a strict no laptop policy in my classroom. Appeals for personal exceptions regarding this policy are to be taken up with me privately, not during class time. My office hours are blahblahblah. Otherwise, using a laptop in my classroom is cause for immediate dismissal from the classroom. Repeated offenses will affect your final grade."

Boom, end of story. Whether I feel it is a stupid policy (which I do, as I favor more technology, not less) doesn't matter. This professor makes the policy in his classroom, and students can choose to follow it or take the class with another prof. If a student doesn't read the syllabus, which I believe was an argument above, and is asked to leave the class, the prof just refers him/her to the syllabus and goes on teaching. I would anticipate an extremely low percentage of students taking the time and effort to try to get a personal exemption; seing FritoKay using hers and not getting dismissed, they'd just assume she had.

Yes, professional reputations are important; you earn yours by acting in a professional manner. Getting angry at students one week for an issue and then having to address it again the next simply demonstrates that your prof needs to have a specific policy laid out, stating the policy and outlining the consequences for not adhering to it. That is why he ran into the situation of disclosing more than he should about your specific issue, not because you have a "thin skin" or whatever nonsense but because he wasn't prepared.

And for those of you who have disabilities and did not get the same respectful treatment--I'm sorry that was your experience, but calling out the OP because he/she didn't have to walk uphill both ways in the snow like you did In your day and suggesting FritoKay is at fault for that frankly comes across as petty, even spiteful. Your stance demonstrates a breath-taking lack of empathy and support given what I would normally assume to be a shared desire to further the rights of those facing similar issues.
posted by misha at 9:02 AM on October 6, 2011


I apologize if I'm beating a dead horse here by posting one more time. However, I was a bit taken aback by the stridency and abusiveness of some of the comments here regarding the professor's misguided revelation of the OP's disability. I asked a tenured faculty member at a major research university whether faculty there receive any mandatory training regarding classroom situations involving FERPA, and he said no, they do not--just some very general guidelines. I then described the OP's situation, and while he recognized it as a FERPA violation he thought the professor did not act out of malice or a complete lack of sensitivity, that perhaps the OP's DRC or the university needed to provide better, more thorough instruction regarding FERPA. At the community college where I take courses in programming and math, there is a paragraph in every instructor's syllabus instructing students to let the office of disability resources know of their needs, which also serves to make non-disabled students aware that some of their classmates may require some accommodations and helps encourage an atmosphere of respect and support.

I do think--and again, I speak as a current part-time student myself--that technology can be intrusive and distracting in the classroom, and that the professor probably was not an "asshat" or a "douchebag" or whatever it was he was labeled here for attempting both to keep his classroom's learning environment from being degraded and to communicate that he was not acting out of favoritism. And when students--whether or not they have disabilities--immediately assume the worst about an instructor because he/she has simply made a mistake, it benefits no one. The university faculty I know are very concerned that they provide their students with the best education possible and strive to treat them with the utmost respect and civility. In return, students should do likewise and give their professors the benefit of the doubt, which will make it more likely that they will regard such incidents in the future as learning experiences, rather than hostile personal attacks.
posted by tully_monster at 10:46 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Final update from the OP:
In case anyone is reading this almost two years later - the semester after this incident, I got asked if I would recount the event in question to my advisor at the DRC. Not long after that, I ran into a classmate of mine from the same class who asked me if I'd heard "that Professor so and so went postal about laptops again during the final*" and also told me that some of our classmates had complained to the Pan-Asian Students Union that the professor was calling complex equations "Chinese algebra" in a not at all complimentary tone. (I did not hear this myself but considering that after the DRC incident I started tuning him out - the class wasn't hard, frankly, I'm not surprised I didn't notice it)

I do not know the outcome of any of this - except that it seems the professor in question is no longer teaching at my college. His name no longer appears in the course catalog, and he does not seem to have an office on campus anymore. He was an adjunct, so part-time, so perhaps he was gently encouraged to stop teaching there, perhaps he was fired, I'm not sure - and not going to investigate heavily, but given that my advisor asked me for a formal recounting of the event in question, I am inclined to think that something stronger than a "Hey you can't do this" was done.

* I opted to make use of another of my available accommodations, so I was not in the classroom for this incident.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:23 AM on July 14, 2013 [3 favorites]


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