- Associated Press - Thursday, June 25, 2020

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) - Many department chairs at the University of Kansas are pushing back against the school’s plan to have classroom instruction in the fall, saying they should have the option to teach online.

On Monday, a letter signed by 38 department heads was emailed to Provost Barbara Bichelmeyer after Chancellor Douglas Girod announced last week that the school would hold in-class sessions starting Aug. 24. Since then, another 14 have signed, KCUR-FM reported Thursday.

Instructors can ask for an exemption from the requirement under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which department heads call “impossibly unwieldy, discriminatory and perhaps illegal.”

“The process raises weighty confidentiality concerns, and we believe that many urgent questions remain to be answered about” complying with the ADA and federal anti-discrimination and safety rules, the letter states. “The plan asks instructors to divulge personal health (including mental health) information that is not in fact counted as a disability by law in order to learn that our request may have been denied.”

The act bans discrimination against people with disabilities in several areas, including employment, transportation and public accommodations.

The deadline for faculty chairs to submit a spreadsheet indicating how their fall classes comply with the school’s in-class requirement was Wednesday.

Bichelmeyer did not respond to KCUR-FM’s request for comment.

The university is in a difficult position because the pandemic has caused it to lose its local monopoly advantage. Its main campus in Lawrence faces competition from cheaper schools online. But it also has competition from elite schools with more resources.

Ani Kokobobo, the chair of the Department of Slavic and Eurasian Languages and Literatures, said she would have preferred for the school to have consulted with people about the mandate.

“I’m here weighing my family’s welfare and my university’s welfare together and, yes, sure, I’ll do whatever you need me to do,” Kokobobo said. “I’ll sacrifice in some way. But ask me, at the very least, because of the risk that is involved.”

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