Disability Discrimination at Princeton
The Department of Education (ED) is nearing the end of their public policy disability discrimination investigation into Princeton University that grew out of a complaint filed by a former Woodrow Wilson School (WWS) student, Rachel Barr.
Princeton finally agreed to temporarily waive Barr’s legal statue of limitations on April 12. The papers were signed ten minutes before Barr would have had to file the lawsuit. The Federal Department of Education can now continue their investigation.
Under review are allegations that the university lacked a prompt or effective process for responding to Barr’s disability related complaints regarding certain policies and procedures that Barr believed constituted illegal disability discrimination.
One example of this was in early 2014 when Barr received an email from a WWS employee that stated, “dogs are not permitted in the building and/or classrooms unless they are working dogs to assist the blind.” Barr objected, saying that only allowing guide dogs into buildings discriminated against many people who are legally entitled to be accompanied by service dogs such as veterans with PTSD. These objections were ignored seven times over the course of thirteen months. Ultimately, though, Princeton did adopt an ADA-compliant service dog policy – 19 months after Barr’s first documented complaint. Barr, the daughter of a Special Education mediator for the ED, asserts, “It is neither prompt nor effective to take a year and a half to address a one-sentence policy that is a clear civil rights violation. I want to avoid literally making a federal case out it because the ED will most likely resolve my individual and public policy level concerns.”
Barr alleges that in 2014, Princeton’s director of disability services, who recently left Princeton, acknowledged that
Princeton’s service dog policy highlighted a larger problem:
Institutional acceptance of disabilities at Princeton varies by disability type.
The head of disabilities also allegedly cautioned Barr about her ongoing advocacy, given the nature of Barr’s disabilities and that Barr needed administrative approval regarding her PhD candidacy exam. (Princeton’s failure to provide Barr with the necessary or agreed upon accommodations on that exam is also under review.)
In its official statement addressing the controversy over Woodrow Wilson’s legacy on Monday, Princeton acknowledged its own “failings” regarding racial injustice and pledged a “renewed and expanded commitment to diversity and inclusion at Princeton.” But inclusion, in education, specifically addresses people with disabilities, and although the Report of the Princeton Trustee Committee on Woodrow Wilson’s Legacy at Princeton includes the words “inclusion” and “inclusivity” dozens of times, it never mentions disabilities.
Although Princeton’s recent statements about Woodrow Wilson focus on racial diversity, Barr believes that, President Eisgruber’s acknowledgement last Monday that “we have not come far enough” opens the door to the possibility of change for the disability climate on-campus as well. As Barr says, “Until the president’s letter last Monday, I had given up hope that I could avoid filing a lawsuit and releasing my audio recordings.”
As Barr says, “If Princeton is earnest in its renewed commitment to inclusion, then agreeing to temporarily pause the statute of limitations is a must.”
The ED needs time to wrap up its work and we need time to explore dispute resolution. Barr’s counsel sent a letter to the university asking them to temporarily suspend the statute of limitations but the university has yet to respond.