On February 9, College Council (CC) passed a resolution calling on the University to permit students with disabilities to pursue part-time academic status. The resolution, if approved by the College administration, would allow students in the College to apply through Student Disability Services (SDS) to take fewer than three classes in a quarter.
“The fact that UChicago doesn’t allow part-time status for disabled students is in some ways a sign of inequity,” said Connor Lee, a member of the Student Government (SG) Health and Wellness Committee, who spearheaded the College Council resolution alongside fellow member Sadie Morris. “Disabled students are not being given an accommodation that would put them on a more level playing field with other undergraduate students in the College.”
Currently, the University allows eligible students extra quarters to graduate. In particular, those who have received approval from SDS to take three courses beyond the regular six-quarter limit can petition for extra quarters to fulfill their degree requirements. However, many students with medical needs or long-term disabilities find this accommodation inadequate, forcing them to take extended leaves of absence, according to the resolution.
The resolution, which passed unanimously in CC, was sponsored by five CC members and the entirety of the SG Health and Wellness Committee. However, according to Lee, the Office of the Dean of Students opposed reinstating part-time status when CC attempted to approach them regarding the resolution.
“Full-time status ensures all students have the same opportunities. If full-time participation is not possible, the College’s leave of absence policy enables students to take time away and return when they are ready,” University spokesperson Andrea Lewis wrote in a statement to The Maroon. The Office of the Dean of Students currently grants leaves of absences for medical reasons. Students with disabilities are eligible to take up to 12 cumulative quarters of leave.
UChicago Students for Disability Justice, the primary disability activist group on campus, supports the measure.
The College allowed all undergraduates to enroll in part-time status until fall 2015, when the College limited eligibility for the status to graduating fourth-years and students with disabilities on a petition basis. In 2017, the administration entirely removed part-time status from the College Catalog, despite a 2016 promise from Jay Ellison, dean of students in the College, to expand eligibility for part-time status.
In 2019, a committee set up to review academic calendar changes recommended revisiting the decision on part-time status in a report sent to the Office of the Provost.
“At least some students facing difficulties might be better served by taking a reduced course load for one or two terms,” the report reads. “Such students would face a less steep climb to get back on schedule to graduate with their peers.”
The College administration has not signaled any plans to follow this recommendation.
In 2015, Ellison cited the changing employment and commuting patterns of the student body to justify the end of part-time status. A majority of students once attended the University of Chicago in a part-time capacity due to the need to work or commute. In recent years, however, students have been more likely to live on or around campus and are thus less likely to work full-time while attending college.
Ellison said that this change, along with the fact that the College is “a top-tier college with some of the best students,” made it clear that “part-time study no longer was needed or appropriate.”
In an email announcing the decision, Ellison said that removing part-time status was motivated by a desire to “provide the same options and opportunities for all students.”
The SG Health and Wellness Committee, however, believes that reinstating part-time status would “level the playing field” for disabled students by giving them more freedom to access school resources.
According to the committee, students with disabilities often have non-academic obligations that make it difficult to manage a full-time course load; part-time status would alleviate this burden and allow them to take advantage of the extracurricular opportunities offered by the College.