University faculty kick off school year with discussion of mandatory disability training

The Faculty Consultative Committee is prioritizing conversations about implementing mandatory disability training for faculty.

Ryan Machtmes, Cofounder of the Organization for Graduate and Professional Students with Disabilities, poses for a portrait in Coffman Memorial Union on Monday, Sept. 9.

Nur B. Adam

Ryan Machtmes, Cofounder of the Organization for Graduate and Professional Students with Disabilities, poses for a portrait in Coffman Memorial Union on Monday, Sept. 9.

Niamh Coomey

The University of Minnesota’s Faculty Consultative Committee started the school year with a collaboration between several organizations on campus to discuss one of their top priorities this year: mandatory faculty disability training. 

Representatives from Boynton Health, the Aurora Center for Advocacy & Education, the Disability Resource Center and the Organization for Graduate and Professional Students with Disabilities contributed to the discussion at a recent FCC retreat. The FCC’s initiative to implement mandatory disability training will be ongoing throughout this year. A resolution namely authored by OGPSD and the Disabilities Issues Committee was passed by the University Senate last spring and initiated much of the conversation around this topic.

FCC Chair Amy Pittenger said much was learned at the retreat, which took place late last month, and that the FCC will continue to work with these groups on this topic in the future. 

“I think we had a really good kick off at the retreat where we were able to learn a lot from the guests that we had there and also were able to provide a lot of information to those guests who I believe will be definitely integral to the ultimate development of the training,” she said.

Ryan Machtmes, president of OGPSD, said he feels confident that the conversation will be ongoing, and that he will continue to work with the FCC.

“The meeting was overall very productive. It was a very early meeting in what will be a long process. It was not a one off,” he said. 

The initiative is in a very early stage, Pittenger noted, so specific topics are yet to be discussed.

Benjamin Munson, chair of the Disabilities Issues Committee, weighed in on how the training should be framed, and said that how it’s presented to faculty will be vital to its success. Some professors would not respond well to being told they need additional training, he said.

Munson added that changes need to take place to truly improve the academic experience of students with disabilities. Those who want to change will, he said.

“The question is will the University continue to invest in those people so that they can provide the local expertise that will allow individual units, departments, centers …  to have the momentum to change their curricula on a bigger scale,” he said. 

OGPSD Vice President Daniel Greenberg voiced support for the initiative as well and said that faculty have a responsibility to develop a better understanding of disabilities and their students’ needs so that they can better support them. 

”I think oftentimes people think that the [DRC] is supposed to handle absolutely everything, well they can’t,” Greenberg said. “They handle all the academic accommodations and support on that front, but their reach only goes so far.”

Greenberg noted that many students with disabilities tend to question their sense of belonging at universities. Faculty attitudes have an enormous impact on this, Greenberg said, making the FCC’s initiative an important one. 

Munson said he hopes that the mandatory training is carried out in a way that helps to contribute to larger change on the issue of accessibility for students with disabilities.

“I think the training is going to be more than just a training. It’s going to be an educational experience to get people to do the long term mindset shifts that we really need [in order] to stop putting Band-Aids on problems,” he said.