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    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

Pigeon vision
February 26, 2012 - 6:33pm

All my suits are either a shade of blue (usually dark) or a shade of gray varying from medium to dark. My blazers are all differing shades of blue and the accompanying pants are either gray or blue.  My shirts are all white and my ties vary from shades of blue to sometimes shades of maroon or dark red. Why am I writing this?  Is this my application to be a model for GQ? Or am I about to start a fashion consulting business?

Before I answer this question, I need to go back to when I was an undergraduate. I had taken a course in economic geography as an elective toward my major of economics. I was a solid student with good grades at a time when grade inflation was not yet on the horizon. And the more credits I accumulated, the more concerned I became with my GPA and with doing well in general.  Economics courses for me were rarely that difficult. As I have said before I still have a passion for the discipline, the passion developed in college, and I enjoyed learning more and more about economics. But this course was very different. There were key areas of the course that I couldn’t comprehend. There is no other choice of words that fits the situation — there simply were portions of the course I could not comprehend. Was this a mental block against geography?  Not at all.  Rather it was the fact that many of the exam questions and much of the course material required a comprehension of color that I simply did not have. How could I answer the questions dealing with green areas of the map when I couldn’t see the green areas, and what I was looking at looked the same as brown areas and even at times the same as red areas.  And I still remember the dread when I looked at the final exam for this class and the majority of the grade was based on identifying the area by color for the different geographic situations being looked at.

At this point in time, I am sure that some of the readers are asking why I didn’t mention this limitation to my instructor.  In fact I did; I mentioned it early in the semester, I mentioned it later in the semester, and I mentioned it just before the final.  And each time I offered to verify that I was in fact color blind. The initial reaction which never changed was that the faculty member thought the situation was very funny and that I would just have to deal with it. I did ultimately receive a B in the course but that didn’t resolve my sense of frustration with how I had been treated

Reasonable accommodation for individuals with disabilities is so important in terms of creating a level playing field. And clearly we need the laws that are in place and perhaps even some additional legislation to ensure that level playing field. Whenever I hear anyone question these accommodations I think back to my economic geography course and realize immediately, that even in my very minor situation, how important it would have been to have an accommodation.

Of course, there can’t be an accommodation for what I did a number of years later.  A coworker had a brown sports jacket that I thought looked terrific and so I decided I would buy a jacket like that for myself.  So off I went to the mall at Roosevelt Field on Long Island and came home with a new sports jacket.  Unfortunately, as I discovered when I wore it to work, it wasn’t brown. It turned out to be a somewhat bright shade of green, which I ended up wearing from then on just on Saint Patrick’s Day. As I noted at the beginning of this blog, my suits are all shades of blue and shades of gray.


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