Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

A Professor Got A Heart Transplant, So He Wanted To Teach Online. His University Said No.

Philadelphia Inquirer, A Professor Got a Heart Transplant, So He Wanted to Teach Online. His University Said No.:

OrossKutztown University professor Stephen Oross III got a heart transplant earlier this year.

With cases of COVID-19 surging, he didn’t feel safe returning to in-person teaching, and his doctors warned against it. Kutztown, a state university, requires masks but doesn’t require the vaccine, so he faced the possibility of being in classrooms with unvaccinated students and little room for social distancing.

“He’s still immunocompromised and ... I felt his risk of being exposed and getting a breakthrough case is very high,” said his cardiologist, Shelley Hankins, of Hershey Medical Center.

The university denied Oross’ request. He took an unpaid leave of absence for the semester.

As universities throughout the region promised as normal a year as possible with a return to in-person classes, professors have sought exemptions for a number of reasons. But who qualifies, and what circumstances carry enough risk to be able to teach virtually? Absent universal guidelines, colleges set differing bars, some saying they were guided by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which allows for “reasonable” accommodations. Some took a hard line, leaving nearly no room for exception.

In some cases, faculty like Oross have had to choose between health concerns and work.

Inside Higher Ed, Recent Heart Transplant Patient Denied Request To Teach Online:

Kutztown University denied a recent heart transplant patient his remote teaching accommodation request, arguing that the “fundamental alteration of the delivery of a course” is not a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The university says it received three other professors’ ADA accommodation requests to teach online this semester. It granted none.

Stephen Oross, the associate professor of psychology with the new heart, says Kutztown adopted an effective “blanket denial” policy regarding accommodation requests, in possible violation of the law. He’s considering legal redress against the Pennsylvania university.

In the meantime, he’s refinancing his home and tapping into retirement funds to afford his medical and other bills. He’s also hoping that his benefits won’t be affected due to his being forced to take leave this semester. “I do not have any confidence whatsoever in the administration at this point,” Oross said. “I don’t trust them.”

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