DSS faces transition after Director position eliminated

SARAH CORNELL-MAIER; News Co-Editor; cornelsm@plu.edu 

The position of Director of Disability Support Services was officially terminated on Nov. 7.

In a process that began in June  2016, the administration of Pacific Lutheran University launched an investigation into the full extent of the services requested by students through the DSS, and concluded that a specific “Director” position was unnecessary for the University.

The DSS provides services to students with disabilities to ensure they receive equitable access and representation in on-campus programs.

Information regarding this transition was released in November to students who receive services through the DSS. The situation was explained in an email from Dean of Students, Eva Frey.

She stated, “The position of Director of Disability Support Services has been eliminated. Through program review and feedback from students and faculty, it is apparent that resources focused on direct service are a priority need.”

This clarification of the reasoning for the termination of the director position did not sit easily with some PLU community   members.

First-year Grace Meno said, “I got the email, but I didn’t feel like I got any closure about the topic. I worked pretty closely with Paula [the former director] and when they emailed us saying she no longer worked for the DSS, I got really confused because it seemed so sudden.”

Senior Morgan Stark shared this confusion. “Now they don’t have a face to the name,” she said, “and I’m not sure who to email or how to utilize the services.”

The Director position was one that was described by Frey as, “operating at a policy and procedure level — we needed someone who could also provide direct services, and I had the ability in my position as Dean of Students to pick up those responsibilities.”

Frey said the services provided by the DSS have not changed because of the     transition.

“We can still meet the needs of our students, just with fewer people. It’s a better use of the school’s resources, and it, in turn, improves the ways in which the university operates.”

Frey addressed the idea that the transition was caused by the budget shortfall.

“With retention rates dropping in the last year, we had to look at the budget,” Frey said. “Administration started by looking at programs and positions, and decided there were two positions that the university could afford to remove… One of these positions was the Director of Disability Support Services.”

In contrast to Frey’s statement, Vice President for Student Life Joanna Royce-Davis said in an interview for a different story, “No, [the position elimination] was not budget related.  The current structure is not serving students well and is not responsive to student need.” Read more about the budget on pages 8-9.

Associate Professor of History Michael Halvorson said he has worked with several students through the DSS. He said the faculty-student relationship is vital.

“We as professors really do care about our students, so as long as that relationship works, I’m not too worried,” he said.

Amid feelings of uncertainty on campus about the transition, Frey said she wants to make sure students and faculty feel they can check in with the DSS with questions.

“As an institution that’s trying to provide the highest caliber of support to our students, we are now working in a much more effective and efficient manner,” she said.

Frey said anyone who wants further clarification about these events can contact members of the DSS staff.

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