Please. Education is not a horserace.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t use the classroom to proselytize atheism. I have a job to do, and that is to help the students learn biology, and that’s all I care about — that they graduate after a few years and understand the concepts and can apply them, and if can do that while believing in Jesus or Allah, that’s just fine.

There’s another thing I don’t do, and that is penalize them for their health or situation. You’ve got clinical depression or your grandmother died or you had a nasty break-up with your romantic friend? I’ll make what accommodations I can, because I want you to get through all of that and learn biology. That’s all I can judge you on, is your mastery of the material, but I will welcome any changes that can help you out.

But all too often I run into non-academics (and sometimes even academics) who don’t understand this basic idea, that we’re supposed to help our students learn. So someone like Margaret Wente can write drivel like “Why treat university students like fragile flowers?”

The first answer is that we don’t. We have standards that have to be met in order to pass a course, and they’re not “be free of mental health concerns” or “have a stable family life” or “be rich enough that you don’t have to work part-time”. If you have an illness that makes mastering the course material difficult for you, that doesn’t mean you get a free pass; it means you should talk to me and I’ll do what I can to give you the opportunity to learn it in spite of your handicap. My job is to make all the flowers blossom, not to make half of them wither if they need a little extra watering.

However, there are things that Wente objects to.

Today, any proper university has registered therapy dogs to cheer you up. If exams have you down, drop in for a lick and a cuddle and you’ll feel better in no time. And if you’re too depressed because of Grandma, no problem. The disability office will provide you with a private room and extra time to write your final. Your professor never even needs to know.

Today, colleges and universities are highly concerned with the mental well-being of their students. Student distress, we’re told, is at an all-time high. It’s the pressure. The competition. Social media. Career anxiety. Long commutes. Money worries. Cyberbullying.

Therapy dogs are bad? Why? I want a therapy puppy to visit when grading gets me down! I suspect students learn better when they’re less stressed. All I care about, remember, is student learning.

I have students who take their exams at our office of student learning. We have students with agoraphobia, with test anxiety, who are easily distracted, who have language issues and need extra time. Why shouldn’t they get an environment that reduces those concerns and allows them to demonstrate their knowledge better? Why does Margaret Wente think learning has to be a stress test?

Meanwhile, the definition of “disability” – originally used for physical issues – has expanded beyond recognition. Now, it includes not only learning disabilities, but all manner of mental, social and cognitive disorders – anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, PTSD and the like. These may also require special accommodation. As a consequence, universities now routinely give students extra time to write exams and finish assignments. But not all professors are happy about this. But it’s not up to them any more – it’s up to the ever-expanding disability bureaucracy.

Wait. So we should accommodate ex-military students, for instance, who’ve had an arm blown off, because that’s a visible injury, but students with bodies intact but suffering from PTSD don’t count? Why? If my university provides the resources to reduce anxiety for anxiety-prone students, why shouldn’t we take advantage of it? It’s not as if anxiety, depression, OCD, ADHD, or PTSD make you stupid and incapable of learning cell biology or genetics; it means there are extra hurdles for you to overcome, and hey, if we can clear away the barriers to learning, I’m all for it.

But they get extra benefits, like more time to work on an exam, and that’s not fair! It’s also not fair to be afflicted depression or migraines or PTSD. We’re not demanding that every student be equally traumatized to create a level playing field, you know. The mistake is to think of education as a game where there are winners and losers rather than an experience in which we try to make sure every single student comes out at the end with more knowledge. It’s not a competition.

Wente finds someone who shares her barbaric attitudes.

Bruce Pardy, a law professor at Queen’s University, thinks the accommodation industry has gone too far. Giving someone with mental-health problems extra time to write an exam doesn’t level the playing field, he says. It simply tilts the playing field against everybody else. As he wrote recently: “The purpose of exams and assignments is not merely to test knowledge, comprehension, and analytical ability but to do so under conditions that require poise, organization, forward planning, and grace under pressure.” He says it’s like letting someone with a limp start at the 20-metre mark in a 100-metre race. The results are meaningless.

Stop with the “playing field” bullshit already! It’s not a race. It’s not a contest. I’m not trying to determine who “wins” in my cell biology class. I do test “knowledge, comprehension, and analytical ability”, because I want the students to be prepared for the next course in the sequence, or for graduate/professional school, or the workplace.

If you want to demand grace under pressure, though, I can cover that. I’ve got students who are working two jobs to pay for college. I’ve got students from broken homes. I’ve got students who were poorly served by their high schools who are working twice as hard to catch up. If we must analogize it to a race, these are students who start 20-meters behind the other students, and Pardy is complaining that we are trying to help them get to the starting line before the starting gun. We’re still going to insist that they make it to the finish line to get credit, and we even evaluate them on their performance. To decide a priori that the person with the limp can do nothing to get around the meaninglessness of their efforts is heartless and wrong.

I have no idea who Wente is, but I’m going to guess she’s conservative, and the Canadian version of a Republican. The callous disregard for others’ situation, the lack of empathy, and the inability to imagine the utility of helping all to succeed, rather than just the “winners”, is a giveaway.


  1. says

    Wente’s a conservative Globe & Mail columnist with a history of plagiarism. She also considers the concept of “rape culture” to be a fiction created as part of the “war on men”.

    So, about what you’d expect.

  2. simply not edible says

    You know what…

    Last year, I lost my job after suffering a burnout. Whilst pushing myself as harder than I should have in order to recover as quickly as possible, the depression I’ve been dragging along for 20 years or so decided to kick me whilst I was down.

    If these people think that society should not cater to those who are looking to actively improve their situation even though they are struggling with life in a way that isn’t easily overcome, they can go and fuck themselves, sure. But then, these same people usually end up turning around and saying that those trying their hardest are lazy parasites for not being able to overcome quickly ebough, or even sometimes at all. And then, they can just go and fuck themselves with a 10-foot cactus.

    Even if I wouldn’t wish that upon a cactus.

  3. toydamashii says

    I always felt like my campus was missing something, and now I know what it is: dogs! Cute, comforting, and a living cheat sheet for animal anatomy. Just keep ’em off the dissection bench…
    On a serious note, what kind of fantasy schools are these people looking at for them to think that disadvantaged students are getting easy passes? Sure, I wouldn’t turn down a free A just for having ADHD, but in practice it works out to professors being slightly less annoyed than usual when I’m late with a paper.
    Of course, according to Wikipedia, she’s a serial plagiarist. She must have been babied too much at university if she didn’t learn not to do that.

  4. says

    “I want the students to be prepared for the next course in the sequence, or for graduate/professional school, or the workplace.”

    Well yes, but this does imply some tradeoffs you aren’t acknowledging. Your boss in the workplace isn’t going to give you extra time to get your work done because of your ADHD, and probably isn’t going to give you a therapy dog either. I once had to fire an RA because he had ADHD and he couldn’t do the work. In fact he constantly screwed up imperiling the integrity of the data. What am I supposed to do? The grant budget is limited and the work has to get done.

    “Reasonable accommodations” means there isn’t any severe burden on the employer that makes employing you non-economical. At some point you’re going to have to compete without much special help. Doing right by students means preparing them to succeed in the Real World (or RW as we used to say in college).

    When I was in graduate school I taught courses at a school of social work. They had a student with Tourette’s who yelled obscenities every few seconds, and they asked her to withdraw because she was unable to do an internship — nobody would accept her placement. There was litigation, I don’t know how it came out, but as far as I’m concerned there isn’t any obvious answer to this problem.

  5. blf says

    Although this kook was born in the States, she doesn’t have an entry in the Encyclopedia of American Loons (perhaps because she lives in Canada and is a naturalised Canadian citizen — and with apologies to the rest of Canada, or at least the few sane people, thanks for keeping her!). However, RationalWiki does have an article (stuck out text and emphasis in the original):

    Margaret Wente is a Canadian award-winning columnist for The Globe and Mail serial global warming denialist, torture advocate, MRA aplogist, xenophobe, and if you didn’t notice already, all-round crank proll. All while holding, in a completely original manner,[] just an English degree.<12>


    <12> She also spends her time bashing the usefulness of English degrees.

    Apparently, however, she is not an anti-vax loon: “As even more proof that stopped clock is an epidemic, Wente is an opponent of vaccine denialism. […]”

      † I’m none-too-sure what the “completely original manner” snark, apparently about her English degree, is about; the associated RationalWiki link doesn’t seem to be related?

  6. whywhywhy says

    “accommodation industry”
    Seems like folks who use this generally also are proponents of capitalism and competition as a solution to all ills. So why use the word ‘industry’ as a pejorative? Is it simply that they believe that folks are expanding the ‘market’ of disabilities in order to increase profit? Is there any evidence of this?

    Anyway, it still seems odd to see ‘industry’ as an insult.

  7. yarguy says

    Sorry, Paul, you guys are responsible for Wente. She was born in Illinois, educated at Michigan and makes a living telling Canadians how screwed up they are.

  8. Becca Stareyes says

    Heck, to rephrase the 100-m dash analogy is that if all you care about is that students can travel 100 m, it doesn’t matter if some of them need crutches, or a wheelchair, or finish far behind the fastest student.

    (Also, I have autism and an anxiety disorder in the workplace. It means I need to be vigilant in self-care, and some of what I learned was by knowing that in school I could insist on things based on my disabilities. Often constraints we use for testing are artificial: writing scientific papers never give me the time crunch to solve a math problem that I have in an exam. Exam periods are mostly to remove aid beyond what we as professors can control for.)

  9. kimberlyherbert says

    I’m dyslexic and wasn’t diagnosed until University. My sister and 2 of 3 first cousins had the same thing happen. Basically, we were able to compensate until we hit the workload of University.

    Now we have several kids in the upcoming generation with the same diagnosis. They use tech (audio books, text to speech apps, speech to text apps and many others). Occasionally the kids or the parents get “It is not fair they get those advantages over other students” comments from students, parents of other students.

    Standard response – give me your glasses/contacts. The person objects. Family member well they give you an unfair advantage so you by your argument you don’t get to use them anymore. Still, I wish there was some way to allow to see how I see text sometimes.

  10. unperson says

    > It’s not a race. It’s not a contest. I’m not trying to determine who “wins” in my cell biology class. I do test “knowledge, comprehension, and analytical ability”, because I want the students to be prepared for the next course in the sequence, or for graduate/professional school, or the workplace.

    You’re right, education is not a race — /from the perspective of the educator/. From the perspective of the student, it often /is/ a race, and with good reason: students want to get the best grades in order to maximize their chances of getting the best scholarships, the best internships, the best graduate/professional school positions, and the best jobs. So it’s to be expected that some self-interested students will complain when educators use resources that might otherwise be used to help /them/ to instead help others.

    Educators, on the other hand, are supposed to see the wider picture. Thank you for doing so in your classes. As someone who is apparently neither educator not student, I have no idea what Wente’s perspective is. Perhaps she blames some educator(s) who once took time to help someone else for her failure to “win” at her education.

  11. screechymonkey says

    cervantes @4,
    Of course it’s true that some people may in the future require accommodations that are not “reasonable” and will not be provided. But I see no reason for colleges to engage in assumptions about the eventual workplace of students. As others have pointed out, the college environment of “sit in this room and solve these problems in two hours” is not generally representative of most employment situations.
    Maybe the student will find a job whose demands won’t require any accommodation. Or one with an employer who is willing to grant them. Or maybe the student will be self-employed. Or work in an unrelated field. Who knows, and I don’t see why it would be the place of universities to weed out those students now just because they might be unsuitable for some kinds of jobs in the future.

  12. anxionnat says

    My dad had undiagnosed and untreated PTSD after World War 2, where he served as a medic/pharmacist’s assistant in the Pacific. After the war, he was given an opportunity with the GI Bill to go to University. He was self-aware enough to know he couldn’t take the stress, and instead went to a trade school to learn architectural drafting. His salary as a drafter was not enough to support a family–I remember that when Food Stamps came in, he was making $1 (one dollar per month) too much to get the family (9 people) food stamps. If he had gotten therapy or help for his PTSD, the family would’ve been better off. So conditions like that can have vast ramifications, not just for the person themselves but for their family and employers, and many more. Several years ago, I took a teachers’ exam here in California. I didn’t have an education degree, but wanted to support myself by substituting in bio and math classes. I requested to bring along a typewriter to write the essay part, because I had fallen and torn several tendons in my shoulder. I could still type, but writing by hand was very difficult. This was allowed, and I passed the exam with flying colors. They didn’t even give me extra time–just let me bring my electronic typewriter along and put me in another room so I wouldn’t disturb others. A week later I had shoulder surgery. It helped, but I still can’t write much by hand. In grad school, when laptop computers were just coming in, I took one to lectures, and out in the field when I took notes, then printed out files as needed. Nobody ever said that was cheating. I still did the work. That’s the whole point–can you do the work? I could and did, and so do most people who have accomodations.

  13. unclefrogy says

    man oh man what a bunch of the same old shit.
    it is just another data point in the real nature of “conservative ideology”
    I have never seen any example of a statement from the conservative that does not define WE very narrowly if not even consider WE at all. IT is one of the underlying principles of their worship if the “Market” and the competition it enshrines.
    They only seem able to see anything that helps everyone as some kind of cheat while not being able to see their own personal advantages as anything other than perfectly natural and not an example of an advantage in the sacred competition of life.
    Why civil rights, why universal health care, why government regulation, why free legal aid?
    The way they describe it it does not sound so much like a race as much as does the sinking of the titanic with not enough life boats.
    There is no “WE The People” ever acknowledged that does not include us vs them where them is everyone not me.
    uncle frogy

  14. futurechemist says

    A classroom is only a “race” if it’s graded on a bell curve. If the bell curve essentially sets a quota that only the top 10% will get an A, then for each student that improves into the A-zone, a student gets knocked down into the B-zone. Bell curves have bigger issues – they actively discourage students from collaborating with each other.

    Most of my colleagues either don’t curve – in which case each student is solely responsible for their grade, or give a flat boost based on the class average – in which case 1 student doing better in a class of 100 will have a negligible impact on the class average and hence on anyone else’s grades.

    So in any sensibly graded class, disability accommodations won’t affect anyone except that individual.

  15. richardemmanuel says

    Lot of plagiarism in Biology. Air traffic controller – exams good for them. Imagine rating Einstein with an egg-timer. Not so hot. Nice to be a mind gardener.

  16. mnb0 says

    “I want a therapy puppy to visit when grading gets me down!”
    I seem to remember that you already have a therapy cat.
    You also could try listening to Therapy?

    Seriously, though. I’ve had candidates who insisted though that they wanted to make my test despite being obviously ill. About halfway I checked their work. It has happened that they had overestimated themselves and were in for a bad grade.
    In that case I took the paper, threw it in the dustbin, ordered him/her to go home and let them make it a few days later.
    A test is meant to find out what a candidate is capable of. So polluting factors like illness have to be eliminated if possible.

  17. kevinalexander says

    ….Margaret Wente can write drivel….

    Wente majored in drivel in university. She’s part of the endless human fascination with Sparta. The fact that the Spartan method failed the Spartans and everyone else who ever tried it never intrudes.
    See: Republican healthcare system.

  18. devnll says

    “Student distress, we’re told, is at an all-time high. It’s the pressure. … Money worries.”

    Gosh. Can’t imagine why students would be stressed about money, just because they’re going to end up in vast amounts of debt from trying to pay for a university degree…

  19. ctech says

    PZ’s work philosophy sounds good to me and probably makes him a heck of a biology teacher. Most of my professor’s gave long speeches on the first day of class that covered things like makeup work and late work. They all set the tone right then and there that there would be zero slack given. It is likely the standard ruse to put the student in “serious mode”. I did miss 1 exam in 4 years due to illness and my cell bio teacher allowed me to make it up. All I had to do was ask and I had a doctor’s note which made it a reasonable no-brainer. However, to get a free-pass because I have a mental disorder is borderline absurd. Two common issues are makeup work and late work. I think those should be allowed but docked points. I think allowing a separate room for an individual with problems is no good because the testing environment should already extend the same courtesy to everyone in the class. I just don’t understand the need.

    @ screechymonkey 11: People are in college to be more marketable in the workforce. The college’s job is exactly to make assumption about the eventual workplace of the student’s. The workforce is competition, so school is competition. Regardless, if you get a job in your degree or not, your degree can still play a factor to the people hiring because they assume a certain work quality with a person with a degree.

  20. jrkrideau says

    # 5 blf

    Re the snide remark about the English degree (actually 2; B.A. U of Michigan, M.A. U of Toronto) it seems to be a reference to one of her columns slagging students during the Québec student strikes. Here seems to be the relevant link—the Rational Wiki seems broken.

    with apologies to the rest of Canada, or at least the few sane people, thanks for keeping her

    You can have her back if you want but you took Ted Cruz so we are probably more than even, at least in the short term.

    For those who would like to follow Ms. Wente’s distinguished plagiarism career the Mea Culpa blog is a good source Hmm, I wonder if anyone has read her M.A. thesis recently?

    Canadians might find it interesting that Bruce Pardy lists articles in the comments section of the National Post and seems to have one or two publications with the Fraser Institute.

    My guess, from that and some other pubs whose abstract or first paragraph or two that I have looked at, is that he is a strong free-marketer. The Hayek epigram, also, seemed suggestive.

    Heck, Pardy may well be a Social Darwinist!

  21. jrkrideau says

    # 13 unclefrogy

    man oh man what a bunch of the same old shit.

    Well, that probably means Wente wrote the column, or, at least, some of it. The stuff she used to plagiarize often had substance, even after her inept copy & paste work.

  22. jrkrideau says

    What I find a bit ironic iis that Pardy’s university has a fairly good number of students requesting ‘accommodation’ (second hand but probably reliable source) and he teaches at one of the most highly competitive universities in Canada in terms of undergrad admissions.

    So, in terms of his own student body, he seems to be criticizing students who have already beaten the odds just to get a place there.

  23. quotetheunquote says

    RE: OP
    I have no idea who Wente is, but I’m going to guess she’s conservative, and the Canadian version of a Republican.

    Margaret is, not to put too fine a point on it, the Globe & Mail’s resident buffoon. Yes, she is a Conservative – or at least, enjoys playing the part of one. Mostly, it seems to me, she just spouts whatever conterfactual gibberish she feels is most like to get people like me riled up; the other week, I believe, her theme was “neonics aren’t so bad, quit whining”. I read the Mop & Pail every day, but mostly just ignore her pieces.


  24. screechymonkey says


    People are in college to be more marketable in the workforce.

    Generally speaking, that’s probably true. But as my previous post noted, “the workforce” is pretty broad. Not every student is going to end up working a 9-to-5 job in an office or cubicle or lab, where the rules are inflexible. (“Start writing those TPS reports at 9 am, and stop at 5 — we’re not authorizing overtime! — and you’d better be able to get your quote done by then!”) And even the strictest workplace has to yield to the legal requirements of reasonable accommodation for disability. Some workplaces have flexible hours — “we don’t care how you get your assignment done — work slow and steady, or procrastinate and crank it out at home the night before — just get it done by the deadline.” Some students will end up being freelancers or otherwise self-employed, and only take on whatever projects or deadlines they choose.

    And at the risk of being sentimental and naive, there is the fact that universities have a mission to — you know, promote the accumulation of knowledge and all that. There are 70-year-olds who apply to university because they always wanted to learn biology or whatever, and have no expectation of rejoining the workforce once they graduate. Of course those are the exceptions, but the point remains that the mission is to teach, not provide a steady supply of office drones to corporations.

    The college’s job is exactly to make assumption about the eventual workplace of the student’s.

    Citation needed. Seriously. Colleges don’t work for employers, or industry in general. To the extent they work for anyone, they work for their students. I’m not aware that the criteria for degree-granting institutions require any specific method of testing or instruction.

    The workforce is competition, so school is competition.

    The premise is dubious — a lot of workplaces aren’t structured as competitions among employees. In a loose sense, yes, there are labor markets and supply and demand at work, but in that sense, practically everything is competition.

    And the conclusion does not follow, because again, schools don’t work for employers. Some programs don’t even provide grades — they evaluate on a pass/fail basis.

    Regardless, if you get a job in your degree or not, your degree can still play a factor to the people hiring because they assume a certain work quality with a person with a degree.

    Well, employers can assume what they like, but I would say they’re being foolish if they infer much more than that “this person has acquired the knowledge required for the degree and, presumably, the skills required to obtain that knowledge.” They have no idea about the student’s work habits other than that they were sufficient to jump through the hoops that colleges set up.

    Frankly, if colleges are trying to tailor their requirements to the anticipated workplace, they’ve been doing a shitty job of it. There aren’t many workplaces where employees are given months to study something and then given two hours to answer a bunch of questions about it — and yet, the “in-class exam at the end of the semester” has been and remains a standard method of student evaluation. I understand why: among other reasons, take-home exams and term papers are susceptible to cheating, and the standardized exam is usually a lot less burdensome to grade. But if you were trying to prepare students for their imagined future jobs, or to provide employers with a meaningful assessment of how the students will handle those jobs, that’s would be a pretty terrible method to choose.

  25. gijoel says

    I recently found the body of a +20 year friend a week before I was due to go on placement. I was a mess and planned to tough out my placement. Fortunately, wiser heads than mine prevailed and got me to ask for a 2 week deferral. I’m glad I did as I needed that time.

  26. says

    @ screechymonkey 11: People are in college to be more marketable in the workforce. The college’s job is exactly to make assumption about the eventual workplace of the student’s. The workforce is competition, so school is competition. Regardless, if you get a job in your degree or not, your degree can still play a factor to the people hiring because they assume a certain work quality with a person with a degree.

    Argh, no. Profess neoliberal ideology all you wish, but don’t project it onto others. People don’t exist to serve capitalism.


    I’d love to live in the typical university of these people’s fever dreams. I’ve taught at exorbitantly expensive colleges and universities and been paid $2000 for the entire course, with few resources or support, 30-35 students, and no job security. That’s what the casualization of academic labor looks like. It was difficult enough to deal with the most basic student issues, never mind the kids thousands of miles from home whose families in Asia were putting all of their money and hopes into their career chances and who were stressed to the edge. Being able to engage with students over time and help them with serious issues was a dream. I still think about the kids I failed. People who claim students today are coddled or that the institutions generally support their well-being is clueless or a liar.

  27. blf says

    Just to clarify, SC@28 was replying to ctech@20, and not to screechymonkey@11 — the quote in @28 was ctech blithering.

    On one small point in the quote, ctech is partially correct: During and for some time after college, the courses and degree(s) do play a factor in employment decisions (especially for relevant positions); but as one’s experience and career progress, less and less so, other than, perhaps, as evidence of a capacity to learn and evaluate. Which is, broadly, part of what screechymonkey (at least) said.

  28. Pablo Campos says

    First about @20. No need for a separate room? I have Schizoaffective and severe Generalized Anxiety disorder that requires me to need a separate or minimally crowded room so I can learn at my college. As for accommodations, they are very useful and absolutely necessary. I need them as mentioned above and while that in itself doesn’t guarantee success it very much gives me a real chance at actually being able to succeed and learn.

  29. lanir says

    Eh. Another conservative fluffcake going on about how everyone needs to do things the hard way. She’s just another poser struggling to pretend she had it rough.

    I did that journey they always talk about where you start in some bad place and do the hard work of bootstrapping yourself into a better situation. But because I lacked connections it literally took me years of wasted time in dead-end jobs before I finally found a way to use what I’d learned and felt like I had a career.

    There is nothing particularly useful about doing things the hard way like I did. It was a crap shoot and I barely made it. I should have abandoned the whole idea and tried something else. But I stuck with it because I’m stubborn. Going that route taught me I don’t want to see anyone else doing the same thing I did. I want people to get where they’re going without this useless nonsense in the way.

    I don’t fear the idea of more people having access to good jobs. But I can see why a plagairising loser and cheerleader for fake competition would be starkly terrified.

  30. chrislawson says

    cervantes@4: I think you are confusing helping students with disabilities to complete a qualification with giving students with disabilities qualifications they haven’t earned.

    And I’m sure you can think of plenty of examples of people without disabilities who had to be fired because they couldn’t do their job.

  31. chrislawson says

    kevinalexander@17 — you can count me among the people who are fascinated by Sparta…but it takes a special kind of sociopath to think they were role models for building a functional society.

  32. says

    Academics who share Margaret Wente’s views are the main reason it’s taken me something like the better part of twenty years to get to the point where I’m able to study successfully at all.

    Here’s my story: I’m “academically gifted and talented” – I learn fast, and accurately, I’m particularly good with written language, and my reading comprehension was consistently off the far end of the scale all the way through primary school (I was consistently reading three years ahead of my age peers all the way through primary school). I loved reading, and learned really easily. Which had its down side – I never learned any study skills, either, because I never actually needed them all the way through school.

    I also have chronic endogenous depression, plus its terrible twin, chronic anxiety, and I’ve had both of those at what might have been disabling levels (aside from the aforementioned “academically gifted and talented” thing) since I was about eleven (I was eleven when the suicidal ideation kicked in and I started getting ideas about killing myself). There’s something more than a bit distracting about having to spend whole days battling with your brain in order to stop yourself from walking out into traffic or laying down on the train tracks, or spending entire days dealing with anxiety-induced diarrhoea.

    I discovered much later on (this time last year) I might also be on the autism spectrum. I fit a lot of the diagnostic criteria, but I don’t have a formal diagnosis at this point (getting a formal diagnosis of autism as an adult female in Western Australia is essentially a class marker – it’s proof positive you have multiple thousands of dollars to throw at the problem).

    So this year, I’m going back to university (again – this is take five at getting a degree) as a mature age student, with a disability access plan (centred around my depression), and additional support from a specialist autism mentoring and support program. The disability access plan largely consists of “I get a seven day extension as required without having to fill in paperwork or show a medical certificate” and “I get a referral to the Learning Services Centre for study skills if I’m having problems” – and so far I haven’t needed to use either of those. But they’re there in case I do. I suspect that’s the case with a lot of so-called “special accommodations” – they’re there for the student if they’re needed, but if they aren’t needed, then nobody loses out. Sometimes just knowing the accommodation is there if you need it, and you’re not without a safety net, makes the whole business a lot less anxiety inducing.

  33. davidw says

    She’s also dead wrong about something – professors DO have to know if a student has disabilities that need to be accommodated. In my classes, I tell students that if they claim a disability that must be accommodated, it MUST be properly documented by Disability Services, or I won’t accommodate. Why, you ask? Because some students will claim a disability thinking they can get away with it. If properly documented, I’m happy to work with them.

  34. katiemarshall says

    Yeah, she’s a complete annoyance to every academic Canadian because she fundamentally doesn’t understand how universities work and then opines in a national newspaper about them. My favorite one was when she was complaining that professors were only teaching two courses a semester, so they were only working 6 hours a week!

  35. says


    “Reasonable accommodations” means there isn’t any severe burden on the employer that makes employing you non-economical.

    Define “severe burden”. Because, near as I can tell, this usually means “bull pucky”. I am constantly reminded of the vast difference between not just how we treated “employment” 60+ years ago, but the equally vast difference between how my father’s old job for the repair shop at a ski resort is to both a) how they decided to treat them when the “kids” took over the company, and b) how ever other f-ing place seems to think of employees. See, while the old man ran the mountain he would come into the place, look around, see people not doing much, and say, “This is what I like to see. It means that every thing is working right, nothing is in disrepair, and therefor I am making money, instead of losing it.” The “kids” when they took over fired the entire staff of the repair building, except, ironically, the least productive guy, who had been stealing materials from the business for his own projects, for years, but was designated “valuable” because he “designed stuff”, then ended up hiring the same freaking people back, on a case by case basis, at twice the cost, via third party repair shops, who had hired all the people they fired/forced into retirement. This was deemed “cost effective”.

    Now, take a look around at every other bloody job, and its the same BS. It somehow “costs” money to have someone not doing much of anything, but cost “no money”, somehow, to have a worker doing 3 people’s jobs, during the busiest part of the day, when literally every living soul is trying to deal with a customer, and there is no one able to a) stock shelves, b) deal with maintenance, c) or anything else secondary to, “making sure we shove as many people through the lines and out the door as possible.”

    Sure, it works, sort of.. But.. everyone including the customers that realize they are getting shit service (most don’t, because being nice to them for 10 seconds as you shove their ass out the door wipes the rest of their memory of how much you didn’t have in stock, didn’t do for them really, etc., right out of their mind), are stressed to the limits, because no one has any actual freaking time to actually do anything. Well, except for management, who get to spend half their time telling you that you are not moving fast enough, not where they imagine you should be, not finishing you work at the pace they think you should, etc., while they spend 20 minutes doing nothing at all, while talking to some friend of theirs, some place in a corner (who being a “customer” they can get by with calling “service”).

    Guess which “special flower” is, in this scenario the one that is being “unnecessarily accommodated”, and which one is being praised for, “doing the best job they can”? Hint: Its not the person that is doing the work of 3 people, because 5 years ago they cut staff in half, and today someone just happened to call in sick, but “management” decided they didn’t need (or just as likely couldn’t find someone who didn’t laugh in their face to come in), a replacement for the sick employee.

    As far as I am concerned, the whole of “capitalism” can shove its “efficiency” and the entire idea that there is some huge “burden” on them up its collective backside. Because, you know what, only the competent people are the ones getting screwed, in terms of work (since we have to make up for the people they decided they “didn’t need”, as well as for anyone that “is” being accommodated for some problem they legitimately have, while **those people** how have such problems are being screwed, instead, economically, by things like the rule many grocery stores (or at least the one where I work does) have that “entry level positions don’t get raises, or real pay, since everyone is expected to fight up the pyramid scheme to something that isn’t ‘entry level'”). Only.. These people are not in any sort of position, at all, to play king of the hill, and kick everyone else down the slope, in the grand game of, “I deserve to be actually paid, because I stepped on everyone else to get to the smaller number of positions above the last place I was on the side of the hill.”

    Unnecessarily burdened… right…. I am sure this is exactly the problem that some rat making 500 times what I do, 100 levels higher up the hill from me, is thinking when deciding what constitutes sensible hours, pay, work, etc. for the people working 20 hours a week, at barely minimum wage (many of whom are the very people that “can’t do” more complicated, or stressful, work).

  36. ctech says

    @screechymonkey 25: The workforce is competition not workplace. College’s prepare you more for the workforce, not the workplace. The workplace can be internally competitive for some industries but it is hiring practices that make the assumption that a college degree carries a work quality that the person hiring assumes in order for the applicant to get a degree they must have had experience showing up on time and completing assignments/tasks in a timely manner which are 2 qualities that bode well for most labor. Yes, the workforce is broad but the jobs typically are not so that creates competition based on supply. The jobs that are flexible and follow all the accommodations do so in order to reduce turnover and recruit better employees.

    There are some people in college just to learn but most are trying to get higher skilled and paying jobs because we all want to pay our bills and buy things we don’t need. This is why many colleges sponsor their own career workshops because they try to prepare their student’s to be marketable in the workforce and trained for the job their degree is in. You want citation? Then, I would direct you no further than to any job listing for skilled labor at or the want ads. Look under requirements and you will likely see degree qualifications. If you want to be a high school principal or teacher, a city I.T. director, a Q.A auditor for a meat packing plant, a director of finance, or director of marketing for a hospital, you will likely need a degree. If you apply for any of those positions and you don’t have a degree in the related field then you will get a nice reply back saying that you do not qualify or that the position has already been filled.

    Lastly, there are plenty of workplaces that during the hiring process may give you a content knowledge tests. These includes things like laboratories, many states require a Praxis test for public school teachers, many programming jobs will require several coding tasks to gauge programming competency, and many state jobs will give a basic ACT test to make sure you can read, write, and add. Most require an understanding that you get some content and study for days and then take a 2 hour test kinda like school.

  37. says

    One wonders if Ms Wente:

    * Works in a cubicle farm with a strict 3,000-words-a-day output requirement, with attendant punishment in the workplace for failing to meet quota, and no ability to ask for any exception for any reason (such as, not so hypothetically, “This is part 1 of a 6-part series, I had to front-load the ‘research’ I did into nonhomoerotic celebrations of Spartan culture, and I promise to make up for it tomorrow”).

    * Has ever had a personal or family emergency requiring her to take time off from work at or near a critical deadline.

    * Has ever requested time off from work to, say, go appear at a prestigious academic conference extolling the virtues of Spartanism to the greater glory of her employer (or at least greater name recognition), and thereby needed to readjust what hours she appeared in the office that week.

    Idiots who say “No employer will allow for any of this” think that all employment — and most especially employment for college graduates — looks like the production line in Chaplin’s MODERN TIMES, not even paperwork being processed in a cubicle rarm… and even then, management would slot someone in to ensure production continued. THAT’S WHAT MANAGEMENT IS SUPPOSED TO DO AND WHY IT GETS PAID THE BIG BUCKS: Not supervise robots, but supervise people. Plus, even robots break down.

  38. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the Canadian version of a Republican.

    Sounds severely oxymoronic.

    Aren’t Canadians constitutionally required to be at least somewhat nice?

  39. ibbica says

    Citation needed. Seriously. Colleges don’t work for employers, or industry in general. To the extent they work for anyone, they work for their students. I’m not aware that the criteria for degree-granting institutions require any specific method of testing or instruction.

    In Canada a good number of our colleges receive public funding. They agree to follow directives provided by their provincial governments to secure that funding. And yes, those governments do insist that colleges specifically focus on training to careers (research universities are in a different boat, as are private colleges).

    Significant deviations from ‘normal’ assessment and/or instruction can result in everything from loss of credit transferability between institutions to loss of public funding and loss of accreditation.