Disability, Higher Education, and the Culture of Contemporary College Administration


A friend (who is a professor with a disability) writes that he’s pessimistic about the current status of students with disabilities at our nation’s campuses, noting the alarming trend by administrators to underfund disability support services while the numbers of students with physical and learning disabilities continues to grow. He points to undereducated faculty who, in the absence of reliable information about the varieties of learning disabilities or the accommodations that should be afforded grow impatient, even dismissive of LD students and “pass them off” to the campus writing center with no effort made to engage or work with these students.

What’s emerging is a Mad Hatter’s world of signs that mean nothing and a paternalistic sequence of discredited and dishonest affirmations about the equal access that’s afforded to students with disabilities

I know more than a little bit about college administration having grown up in a household that was entirely in the service of my father’s two college presidencies. I remember that my father pushed hard in 1969   for the development of African Studies at the State University of New York at Albany. It’s easy to say that progressive ideas were simple in those days but in fact a dollar per dollar analysis of budgets then and now shows that today’s universities are possessed of deeper pockets than their 1960’s counterparts.

What has changed? The administration of higher education is now modeled in large part on the American corporate business model of the 1980’s: a silo management of budgets that invests less and less into the standing architectures of learning (or in the case of the corporate model in the business of R & D( while saving money as a pure asset.

I am not entirely pessimistic about the direction of higher ed when it comes to disability but I’m very aware that the current economic downturn makes it easier for administrators who don’t see the benefits of growing an organic citizenship of disability to ignore the potential for imagination and ignore the opportunities to do something exciting.

Supporting disabled students and novel curricula and pedagogy is an enterprise that bodes well for establishing the relevance of post-secondary education in a society where 1 in 4.5 citizens is understood to have a disability and in which the discretionary income of families affected by disability is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

The schools that make hay with this cultural turn of events will be rewarded by alumni support that will easily exceed the meager piggy bank dreams of administrative bean counters.

The universities and colleges that hear this message and truly act on it will be richly rewarded both in their intellectual enterprises and in their drives to stand as models of cultural opportunity.


Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

0 thoughts on “Disability, Higher Education, and the Culture of Contemporary College Administration”

  1. Do you think the divide between private and state universities is an important variable? Teaching in the SUNY system I tease my students is like teaching in a third world country. The budget and resources are austere in the extreme. In contrast, private schools, at least until the recent economic crisis, have more resources and should be doing a better job meeting the needs of students with disabilities?


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