Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

Independent Student Newspaper for the University of Texas at San Antonio

The Paisano

When Professors Bite Back

(news) vampire

In 1975 when Dr. Douglas Brode created a cinema studies program at Syracuse University, one of his colleagues posed the question, “What would you do if a blind student ever wanted to take your class?” Brode responded, “That would be my nightmare scenario. I couldn’t accept it.”

Just two weeks into the spring 2015 semester, Brode faced his “nightmare” when a blind student registered for his Topics in Popular Culture: Vampires – Fact, Film and Fiction class.

According to Brode, he hadn’t been notified that a blind student was interested in taking his course until the student walked into the classroom after the lecture had already begun the second week of class.

Brode, confused as to why no one notified him before class had started, was caught off guard and told the student he didn’t know how the student would fully be able to participate in the course since a large majority of the films planned for the semester were silent films.

After discussing the situation with the Student Disability Services Office, Brode understood the university was going to provide the blind student with a person who would attend class with the student and whisper what was going on in the silent films.

Brode strongly disapproved of this accommodation.

“Having someone who isn’t a professional film critic tell the student what they think is going on is not the same as actually watching the film,” Brode said. “They can tell the student that two characters are in a dialogue, but they won’t be able to explain the effects of the camera angle, or if the film is in full throttle color or watered down color. These choices that directors make impact the film and are vital for understanding it.”

Brode related his film studies class to an art class with people looking at a vase of sunflowers and painting what they see in front of them. “Everyone can be looking at the same sunflowers, but they’ll all paint something different, based on their mood and their view of the world. It’s fascinating. That’s why silent films are the most visual films.”

After refusing to change his position, Student Disability Services told Brode he could come up with his own solution. “They asked me to be creative, to find it as a challenge,” he said.

Kristie Rosado, senior English major who was in Brode’s vampire film class, explains why she feels the student ultimately made the choice to register. “Obviously, this student will know that this course (could be) difficult on them because of how we will be discussing what makes a vampire film. And already knowing that, this person fought for a chair in the class, either because they needed it, or they really feel passionate about vampirism, just like Brode is.”

Under section 504 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), public entities like UTSA cannot refuse to allow a person with a disability to participate in any service, program or activity because of his or her disability. This participation includes registering for a film studies class on vampires.

However, Brode explains he’s not discriminating.

“I’d be delighted to have a blind student in a music class. But if a deaf student wanted to take a music appreciation class, we’d be in the same situation. If I were teaching a track class and a student with no legs wanted to take the class, you could see the possible problems.”

According to the Student Disability Service’s website, “An instructor has the responsibility to make reasonable accommodations because accommodations make it possible for a student with a disability to overcome barriers enabling the student to communicate what he or she knows in the same way that glasses do not strengthen vision but help a person to see.”

The website also states that “Instructors do not have the right to refuse to provide any accommodations … Instructors have a responsibility to work with SDS in providing reasonable accommodations.”

Brode classified the situation he faced as political correctness to the extreme.

“I’m not saying that blind students can’t take all sorts of classes. They can. But what the university is telling me is that the other students in my class don’t matter. That while 48 students are sitting in class watching a silent film, they will hear one person whispering throughout class about what’s going on in the film. That’s disruptive and not fair.”

Rosado isn’t sure if her learning experience would be disrupted or not.

“Probably. Maybe. I just don’t know. I can’t tell you how much this person is actually able to see, and how little they need to be told about what’s happening in the movie,” Rosado said.

The blind student attended the second class of the semester and provided Brode with an accommodation letter which verified the disability and explained the accommodation that would be provided. By the third class, Brode resigned.

“I don’t teach for the money,” Brode said. “I teach for the love of it. I love UTSA students. They are passionate and eager to talk and learn. But my dad once said, ‘I don’t care what job you have or how much money you make. If it’s not fun, leave.’ At that moment, it was not fun for me.”

“The way the situation was handled – the lack of respect they had for me and my students – was like acid being thrown in my face. They created the perfect storm and gave me no other choice than to resign,” Brode stated.

In an email sent to his class, Brode explained his reason for resigning. “The reason is simple: I was told that I had to take blind students into my classes on film, including any classes that might be composed in part or in entirety of silent films. You strike me as a very bright bunch, so I don’t think that I need to explain the absurdity and insanity of that decision.”

Department of Philosophy and Classics chair Dr. Eve Browning said she could not comment on the situation. “This is a confidential personnel matter, and FERPA privacy is also involved,” she explained in an email to The Paisano.

However, despite Brode’s sudden resignation, the class was still held during the regular meeting time.

“The blind student sat in the front row and seemed to have watched the movie fine,” Rosado said. “Maybe they asked someone next to them a couple of questions once or twice, but it was so discreet and quiet that I couldn’t hear exactly what they had asked about.”

“It is rare that one student’s accommodation would interfere with another student’s learning experience,” Dr. Dianne Hengst, director of Student Disability Services said. “The disability accommodation process protects students from discrimination and provides equal opportunities to education.”

According to Brode’s students, the department has already found a replacement professor, and classes will continue as scheduled.

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