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Managing Your Office
1/19/2016 12:00 AM

When Rebecca Mathern of Oregon State University was given the task of restructuring her admissions office, she made it a priority to keep her focus on getting the right people in place to boost the success of students at her university.

ANAHEIM, CALIF. — When Rebecca Mathern of Oregon State University was given the task of restructuring her admissions office, she made it a priority to keep her focus on getting the right people in place to boost the success of students at her university. Before her attempts to restructure, Mathern found that, although nothing was really wrong in her office, her team lacked direction and had stopped feeling excited for what was coming next. “We had to stop feeling overwhelmed and start feeling empowered,” Mathern said. In a session at the recent Pacific Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers annual conference, Mathern gave tips, tricks, best practices and anecdotes from her own experience transforming her office into a successful student-serving team.

Identify what needs to change, not when to change it

Mathern said that before her restructuring, there was a strong sense within the office that other departments and organizations on campus were not fully involving her team, but team members didn’t have ideas about how to be more engaged with these departments. Mathern bumped up against the following questions while looking to restructure her office:

  • Where do we need to be as a team?
  • Who do we want to have on our team?
  • How do we help develop our staff?
  • How do we help staff decide to play on the team?
  • In what order should change occur? Does it matter what order?

Mathern decided to start with changes immediately. “Waiting for perfect timing means it may never happen,” she said. “As long as you’re engaging people, it doesn’t matter what you do first. Just do something,” Mathern said. Getting people moving and engaged in the process of restructuring gathers its own momentum.

Mathern reviewed her team’s organizational chart, both the number of staff and type of staff. She found that the institution served more than 28,000 students, and her office had only 21.25 full-time employees. In comparison, in 2005, her office had employed 20.25 full-time employees to serve 16,000 students. Although she didn’t have money in her budget to hire more employees, she wanted to better manage her resources at hand to best meet student needs. Mathern was invested in hiring only people who raised the average passion, intelligence or drive of her office. If you want to hire quality staff members on a budget, Mathern advised looking at, for each position:

  • The minimum qualifications of the position.
  • The tools missing that your team really needs to be successful.
  • The opportunities you can seize to effect real change within your office.
  • The most innovative ways to reclassify each position to the highest pay grade possible to find a more qualified pool of applicants. Midlevel management positions draw applicants interested in gaining leadership skills.

New hires create an opportunity to set office standards

Mathern realized that her office needed a better structure for formal training of new hires. The training the university provided, while important for the institution, didn’t cover the needs of the office or provide functional training for the new hire. “We realized we didn’t have anything internal to our office,” Mathern said. Finding a way to merge the two was key to setting the new hire up for success in her role. The training should ensure that the new hire has a solid understanding of the university, knowledge of how the office fits into the university, and the skills to perform her own job responsibilities in the office.

Mathern created a training plan grid for a new hire’s first three weeks on the job, with every 30 minutes blocked out with informational meetings or reviews. Each day, the new hire was given two 30-minute windows to decompress. This training grid was specific to Mathern’s office and not to the applicant. No matter who was hired for which position, each new hire had to participate in a thorough review of each different unit on campus with which Mathern’s office worked. There were no skipped parts, so that each person learned about all the offices’ responsibilities, Mathern said. Mathern stressed the importance of making clear to each new hire that she would have the opportunity to go back and ask to relearn any of the information imparted during this three-week period, and this high-level overview would help direct the new hire to the right department for questions. Creating the training plan grid ultimately saved time, since Mathern didn’t have to plan new training every time she hired someone new.

Find professional development opportunities within your own office

Once you make the right hire for your office, you have to find ways to keep her. “Create an opportunity for people to have upward mobility if they want to stick around,” Mathern said. Mathern advised asking employees within your office which professional development needs aren’t being met. Mathern suggested the following cost-effective methods to provide professional development opportunities to your staff:

  • Follow up with your staff three times: ask for feedback on opportunities; give and receive growth critiques for each employee; and, finally, create expectations for service in helping develop others in the office. A departing employee told Mathern that although there were great professional development opportunities in the office, she could never find the time to take advantage of them. “It doesn’t do any good to offer professional development if people can’t take you up on it,” Mathern said, adding that her office has now built time into employee schedules so that they can avail themselves of professional development opportunities.
  • Offer staff the opportunity to sit in on hiring and search committees. Mathern said this was one of the most effective ways her office helped current employees build their interview skills — both for internal promotion and other opportunities that might come their way. The chance to review what is successful and what could use work during internal hiring reviews for other applicants provides real-life models for interviewing.
  • Direct employees to online professional development resources, many of which can be obtained for free through professional organizations.

To improve your office, set and keep to standards

Mathern worked with her management team to develop standards for her office. First, they worked together to decide on the vision statement: “Clear the path for student success.” From there, Mathern and her management team worked to get the staff to agree on the values to use to operate. It was important to Mathern to get the support of everyone in her office for these values and goals, so that changes to the office’s processes would be viewed as a necessary step toward upholding those values.

Next, Mathern needed to decide how to determine if her team was performing its functions well. She also needed to determine how to measure the value of what the office brings to campus. Mathern and her team decided on a formal, 360 progress review from the campus offices with which they worked. She met with all her partner offices on campus and offered her office’s processes and webpage for review. From these meetings and reviews, she received a 42-page document of feedback. To keep the review process going, Mathern developed a basic survey tool to tack on to emails announcing the implementation of any new service or update from her office to the rest of campus. This quick information-gathering service provided Mathern with a monthly report on how her office was performing in the eyes of the rest of campus.

By the end of Mathern’s restructuring process, she had created a more cohesive office with strategic hiring processes; employees who understand the structure of the office and the office’s role within the university; professional development opportunities her employees desired; and clear feedback processes to determine whether or not her office was meeting its goals and mission.

Student Success
12/17/2015 12:00 AM

My previous article offered suggestions to help you encourage students to register with your office as soon as they enroll. Think about who might help you in such an effort, and get creative.

My previous article offered suggestions to help you encourage students to register with your office as soon as they enroll. Think about who might help you in such an effort, and get creative.

Consider parents as allies in your efforts to persuade students to register, since they are often the ones who have been their student’s advocate, and they will likely be very interested in seeing their student continue to receive services. Rowan University Director of Disability Services John Woodruff speaks on a panel for parents during orientation. He shares tales of students who saw college as a chance for a fresh start as a way of alerting parents to the idea that their student may not wish to register, something parents may not have considered. To make sure that parents know that disability services are available (something parents may not even realize), Erin Ferrara, coordinator of disability services at the Oregon Institute of Technology, discusses her role at the Student Success Center and also tells them about her DS role, so that they are aware of the presence of her office. Students who are thinking about trying college without their accommodations may change their mind if their parents talk to them about it.

Coordinate with other offices, too, to get the word out about your services. Students interact with so many departments, and each one can be an ally for you.

Admissions is a logical partner in letting students know that disability services are available. Carolyn Malloch, director of the State University of New York at Albany’s Disability Resource Center, says her office is pointed out on all campus tours. This might be the first time families become aware that students can have accommodations at college. Bonni Alpert, director of student disability services at Western New England University, says her school’s admissions officers take her brochures with them to hand out on the road. And admissions staff members know to refer students who ask questions about or show an interest in accommodations to her office at a designated time each day when she has made herself available for such consultations. In addition to these in-person efforts, make sure that any acceptance emails or packets admissions sends out — both to prospective and to admitted students — include information about your office and provide registration forms. Having admissions spread the word about your office can serve as a positive sign to students that they can expect to be supported at your school.

Consider engaging the staff of other support offices that refer students to you, such as TRIO, advising, the testing center, veterans’ services, adult and continuing education, and the health center. Ask to attend a staff meeting so you can let these offices know what services you can offer, answer their questions, and ask them to pass out your brochures.

Make the webmaster your ally, too. SUNY Albany has a webpage with a checklist for accepted students; one item says “Report a Disability, Need for Testing/Academic Accommodations, or IEP/504 Plan” and serves as a link to disability services’ webpage. Nancy C. Leonard, director of disability services at Caldwell Community College & Technical Institute, works with her webmaster to make sure it takes only a click or two to reach her office’s site. Making sure that links to your webpage appear on multiple pages of your school’s site and that it doesn’t take long to get to your office’s page can let students know there is a DS office for them and prevent them from getting frustrated trying to reach you.

If your school has a marketing department, use it! Leonard has marketing produce posters that are placed all over campus and provide her office’s contact information in the context of a positive message. Such advertising can help alert students to your services and send the message that you are part of the typical college experience, just like the clubs and activities that are typically advertised.

Don’t neglect to engage faculty members, who can inform students about accommodations by putting a statement about how to contact disability services on their syllabi and by referring students who are struggling. Ferrara does question-and-answer sessions at department meetings and educates faculty members about what she does and how they can refer students to her. Leonard asks to speak at new faculty orientations. Her instructor handbook is available on her school’s professional development website, and she writes a short, disability-related newsletter that is emailed to all college employees each semester. Making yourself known and available to staff and faculty can help to encourage people to send students to you.

Your students interact with so many different offices on campus. Make sure they all know to refer students to you for assistance.

11/17/2015 12:00 AM

The statute of limitations for nonemployment ADA claims is:

A. The state’s personal injury statute of limitations.

B. The state’s disability discrimination statute of limitations.

C. The federal four-year statute of limitations.

D. A, B or C.

The correct answer is D.

The statute of limitations for nonemployment ADA claims is:

A. The state’s personal injury statute of limitations.

B. The state’s disability discrimination statute of limitations.

C. The federal four-year statute of limitations.

D. A, B or C.

The correct answer is D.


Readers of my blog, Understanding the ADA (, know that I have discussed the issue on two different occasions: and Breaking it down works this way:

  1. What is the most appropriate statute of limitations for the claim?
  2. Answer: In most situations, it is going to be the state’s personal injury statute of limitations. However, some states have disability discrimination statutes, and in those situations, the disability discrimination statute of limitations may be the most appropriate. In general, the personal injury statute of limitations will be the go-to in most states. With respect to retaliation claims, the statute of limitations is going to relate to whatever title of the ADA is involved (e.g., Title I, Title II or Title III). Title I requires administrative exhaustion with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or an equivalent state agency within a certain period of time (180 days for the EEOC or 300 days if an equivalent state agency is used for the filing) before bringing suit, but the other two titles do not require any administrative exhaustion.

  3. Why is there even a debate over whether the federal statute of limitations of four years applies to the ADA?
  4. Answer: The ADA was signed in July 1990. In December 1990, the federal four-year statute of limitations went into effect, but that law applies only to federal causes of action arising under federal statutes with no statute of limitations after December 1990 and was not retroactive. That is, since the ADA was signed in July 1990, ADA claims were not subject to the federal four-year statute of limitations. However, the ADA Amendments Act was signed by President George W. Bush in 2008, many years after the federal four-year statute of limitations went into effect.

  5. How do you decide when the four-year federal statute of limitations applies to ADA claims?
  6. Answer: You will have to check the case law in your jurisdiction. Currently, there are two possible approaches because you can have different interpretations of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Jones v. R.R. Donnelley And Sons Company, 541 U.S. 369 (2004). The terms used by the court in deciding when the federal four-year catchall statute of limitations applied included: “creation of new rights of action and corresponding liabilities,” whether “the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant was made possible by a post-1990 enactment,” and “whenever a post-1990 enactment creates a new right.” The thing of it is, you get to different places depending upon whether a court seizes on the rights language or whether it seizes upon whether the plaintiff’s claim against the defendant was made possible by a post-1990 enactment.

  7. Why do you get to different places depending upon whether a court seizes upon the rights language or on the made possible language used in Jones?
  8. A. Case Law

    Answer: The answer is Civics 101. In the United States, it is often said that the legislature makes the law, the executive branch enforces or carries out the law, and the judicial branch interprets the law. Many definitional terms in the original ADA were not defined, and so it was left to the U.S. Supreme Court to define those terms. For example, the original ADA did not have a definition of “substantial limitation” or “major life activities.” (The ADA defines a person with a disability as an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of life’s major activities.) Also, the original ADA did not discuss how a person with a disability would be evaluated if he used mitigating measures, such as hearing aids, etc. Accordingly, the Supreme Court stepped in and answered all of these questions, the effect of which was to severely narrow the scope of the ADA because:

    1. Substantial limitation was defined in terms of a person being severely restricted or prevented from performing a manual task (Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. v. Williams, 534 U.S. 184 (2002)), which courts then extended across all disabilities.
    2. From Sutton v. United Airlines, 527 U.S. 471 (1999):
      • a. Mitigating measures must be factored into the analysis when deciding whether a person has a disability.
      • b. if a person is alleging that he was regarded as having a disability (the third possible way a person could have a disability under the ADA), he had to show that the employer regarded the individual as having a physical or mental impairment and regarded the individual as being substantially limited in a major life activity (a very difficult standard to meet).

    The combination of Sutton and Toyota meant that it was extremely difficult for a person with a disability to be covered by the ADA. Further, the combination of the two decisions had the perverse effect of discouraging people with disabilities from using mitigating measures to compensate for the disability because any mitigating measures used were counted against them.

    B. ADAAA

    Answer: In 2008, George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act. That law did several things, including but not limited to the following. First, it explicitly overruled Toyota Motor and Sutton with respect to what it means to be substantially limited and with respect to the use of mitigating measures, fully correctable eyeglasses excepted. Second, it specifically says disabilities that are episodic are to be considered disabilities if they would be a disability when active. Third, major life activities were specifically defined. Finally, it says that with respect to regarded-as claims, a plaintiff need only show that he was regarded as having a physical or mental impairment and does not need to show he was regarded as being substantially limited in a major life activity.

  9. Did the ADAAA create new rights?
  10. Answer: With respect to those alleging they were regarded as having a disability, alleging they have a disability even though they use mitigating measures, or alleging they have a disability that is episodic, the explicit references in the ADAAA on these points would most certainly argue for new rights being created. Since rights were being created post-1990, the four-year federal statute of limitations most probably applies to these claims.

  11. Is the ADAAA interpretive?
  12. Answer: Yes. For example, the ADAAA explicitly says that “substantial limitation” as defined in Toyota Motor needs to be much broader than how the U.S. Supreme Court and the EEOC had previously defined it.

  13. So how does it all play out?
  14. A. Rights Jurisdiction (Cordova v. University of Notre Dame Du Lac, 936 F. Supp. 2d 1003 (N.D. Ind. March 29, 2013))

    Answer: In this case, the court adopted a rights-based approach and therefore held that the plaintiff was subject to the state’s personal injury statute of limitations, which had expired prior to bringing the claim. It is also worth noting that the court also held that proceeding with a claim through the university’s internal procedures did not toll the statute of limitations (i.e., stop the statute of limitations from running while the university’s procedures were completed).

    Made Possible Approach (Dickinson v. University of North Carolina, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 31721 (M.D. NC March 16, 2015))

    Answer: In this case, the court seized upon “the claims were made possible” language of Jones and attacked the problem in terms of whether the person as the ADA was interpreted prior to the ADAAA would be able to get to first base. In this particular case, they said prior to the ADAAA, this particular person would not have gotten to first base, but would under the ADAAA. Accordingly, this person was able to use the four-year statute of limitations. In this kind of jurisdiction, you wind up with a trial within a trial. That is, in order to prevent use of the four-year statute of limitations, the defense, since the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, would have to show that a person would have had a disability under the ADA prior to the amendment to the ADA. If that showing can be made, then the applicable state statute of limitations will apply. Absent such a showing, the four-year statute of limitations applies. Finally, keep in mind that while the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense, which would mean normally it would be up to the defense to make the requisite showing, it can be raised in a motion to dismiss where failure to comply with the statute of limitations is apparent from the face of the pleadings. In that situation, the burden would be on the plaintiff to establish she would not have been a person with a disability prior to the amendment to the ADA but is one after the amendments. So, assuming a “claims were made possible” jurisdiction, the ability to use the four-year statute of limitations is very much in play after a trial within a trial (expensive).

So what should you do?

Answer: A college or university needs to recognize that it is entirely possible the statute of limitations for nonemployment ADA claims is four years. Accordingly, it certainly doesn’t pay to go into a reactive mode. Litigation is extraordinarily expensive. Your best approach is going to be preventive law. Therefore, colleges and universities should engage in an ADA compliance audit, which I discussed at, and put preventive systems in place so as to deter future litigation.

Conversation With: Emily Shryock
4/7/2015 12:00 AM

Emily Shryock, the assistant director of services for students with disabilities at the University of Texas at Austin, has used social media extensively to conduct outreach for her office and create greater awareness on campus about how it helps students with disabilities.

Emily Shryock, the assistant director of services for students with disabilities at the University of Texas at Austin, has used social media extensively to conduct outreach for her office and create greater awareness on campus about how it helps students with disabilities.

Q: How and why did you get interested in the use of social media as an outreach tool for your unit?

A: I began exploring social media about two years ago. We had a blog on our website, but I was already using Facebook personally, so I wanted to experiment with using it professionally to maintain timely communication with our students and create awareness of what was going on in an informal, engaging way.

I also wanted to engage others on campus, such as students who don’t have disabilities but who, for whatever reason, had an interest in disability. With Facebook, they could take what we post and share those items with their own networks. We now have also started using Twitter as well.

Q: What has been the outcome of your social-media efforts?

A: One unexpected but positive outcome was that we’ve really been able to extend our reach and create partnerships with other campus groups and community organizations that we otherwise would not have had an audience with. Connecting with those groups has allowed us to broaden the reach of our postings, because when they share our posts they reach all of their followers. And internally, it has contributed to creating a more connected campus and generating awareness of what my office does.

Having those connections has also meant that getting content to post regularly is never a problem. Particularly when it comes to community organizations that serve individuals with disabilities, what they post are often things that we know would be of interest to our students, so we can just share.

Q: What advice would you give someone at another institution looking to do the same thing?

A: Start small and start with what you’re comfortable with. Just because you say you’re going to do social-media outreach doesn’t mean that you have to do all kinds of social media at once to start.

For a while, I was just posting to Facebook and learning, and not necessarily advertising that we had a Facebook page. It was a couple of months before we actively began advertising our page. I wanted time to get familiar with how everything worked. With Twitter, I did the same thing — quietly posting content while figuring out how to use the platform effectively.

When we were ready to go public, we included information about our social-media efforts in our newsletter and added links to our website and email signature lines. Liking other groups’ pages and inviting students and others to “like” us also helped.

Prioritize what will go on your Facebook page and Twitter feed, because there’s a lot of content out there. For us, anything from our office gets priority, followed by university and community events, and then national and international items related to disability. And post often, so things stay fresh and you keep people engaged. We post three to five times a week, and it takes no more than five to 10 minutes to post.

Also, maintain consistency. I do all the social-media posting for our unit for that reason. At the same time, we’re very intentional about representing different kinds of disabilities equally in our postings.

For more information, you may contact Emily Shryock at

Conversation With: Melanie V. Tucker
3/10/2015 12:00 AM

Melanie V. Tucker, the assistant vice president for student affairs at Northern Illinois University, spearheaded efforts to implement the principles of universal design across her unit and campus.

Melanie V. Tucker, the assistant vice president for student affairs at Northern Illinois University, spearheaded efforts to implement the principles of universal design across her unit and campus. Below, she explains her motivations for doing so, and the outcomes.

Q: What got you interested in universal design applications for student affairs departments?

A: Prior to my current role, I served as the director of two disability resource centers, so I was very familiar with universal design to begin with. When I stepped into my current role, I realized that implementing some universal design strategies across my department was a way to not only contribute to retention initiatives, but also to increase partnerships across campus. I was particularly moved to do this by research about student persistence when students feel valued and included in their campus communities, and I wanted to move us away from the compliance and medical model toward a social justice model.

Q: How have you specifically promoted the principles of universal design within student affairs?

A: My division puts on professional development conferences each year for us and our partners across campus. I use that opportunity to conduct training for staff from offices within my department, as well as other areas of the institution, on how to infuse universal design into what they do.

Part of what I love about universal design is that it just makes sense. Once people get that universal design doesn’t have to be real complicated, there’s this sort of lightbulb moment, and suddenly they start looking at all of the things they do, down to the very basics, like how they market programs and events. For instance, do they place fliers on bulletin boards across campus? Well, that doesn’t work for everyone. So they then start considering how they might do such things differently to create inclusion.

Sometimes, people also find that what they’re already doing is in line with the principles of universal design, and so they see off the bat that being inclusive can be easy, and it doesn’t necessarily mean any added work.

Q: What advice would you have for someone at another institution looking to emulate your efforts?

A: Find allies across campus. Those folks could be faculty members or colleagues from other departments. Knowing who has people’s ears can make a big difference, because as a UD advocate, I can’t be in every meeting or at every table.

Invite people to come and have a conversation about universal design. Once you create some excitement around the topic, it will spread. Other departments have started inviting me to their departmental meetings to talk about what universal design would look like within their divisions.

And approach the conversation from a perspective that offers broad appeal. For instance, explain how inclusion creates a welcoming environment that promotes retention, not just for students with disabilities, but for all students. Don’t frame universal design as being a cure-all, but rather one more tool we can use to positively impact retention.

Counter resistance before it comes up. For example, talk about how, sure, some things can cost a lot of money, but there are many others that would cost little or nothing at all and can make a huge positive impact.

For more information, you may contact Melanie V. Tucker at

Conversation With: Elizabeth G. Harrison
1/19/2015 12:00 AM

Elizabeth G. Harrison is the director of the University of Dayton’s Office of Learning Resources and associate director of the Ryan C. Harris Learning Teaching Center. She has presented extensively on the topics of working with faculty to promote universal design and expanding accessibility for students with disabilities.

Elizabeth G. Harrison is the director of the University of Dayton’s Office of Learning Resources and associate director of the Ryan C. Harris Learning Teaching Center. She has presented extensively on the topics of working with faculty to promote universal design and expanding accessibility for students with disabilities.

Q: How can disability services providers work with faculty members to increase accessibility?

A: It’s sometimes easier to say this than to do, but disability services providers should really get to know the faculty development and learning support people on their campuses. These people can become powerful allies in reaching out to the faculty and educating them about how to broaden accessibility.

Get to know those folks on campus who, from your point of view, have roles that seem in one way or another to be related to what you do. See exactly what it is they do and how it overlaps with your own role or what you think needs to be done to broaden accessibility. Find out what they think about disability and talk with them about the things you want to do. If they’re receptive, work together on those things. Don’t think that it has to be you alone doing this, because we all care about helping students succeed.

Q: Why aren’t such collaborations more commonplace?

A: Disability services providers may sometimes think of themselves as the only people on campus who serve students with disabilities, the only ones who care about serving students with disabilities, or the only ones who can serve those students. But that’s not the case. There are many others who, if you could just help them to understand the issues facing students with disabilities, would become committed to expanding accessibility.

For some DS providers, I think it may be the case that they got into disability services because they have a family member or someone they care about who has a disability and needed support in college. Or perhaps the DS providers themselves experienced college as students with disabilities, so now they feel a personal commitment to expanding access for others, and they feel that they can’t put that commitment on others. We all operate on certain assumptions that have been built over the years as a result of our own experiences, and that can get in our way.

I encourage people to explore their own assumptions about things such as faculty and their own roles at their institutions. Ask: Why do I think I’m the only one, or my office is the only one, who can do this work? Why am I convinced others will say “no, we can’t do this” or “this won’t work”? Why do I think others may not care? Try to get past that and work intentionally to expand your own mental model while at the same time educating others to help them do the same thing.

For more information, you may contact Elizabeth G. Harrison at


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    Joan Hope became editor of Disability Compliance for Higher Education in 2014. She brings years of experience in higher education and journalism to her work.

    Joan taught writing and literature courses for eight years at colleges and universities including Indiana University at Bloomington, Clark University, and Houston Community College. As a freelance journalist, she published hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines and reference books.

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