Director of SAS to retire

September 13, 2019

The director of Student Accessibility Support (SAS), Beth Rodgers-Kay, is retiring from Brandeis after 14 years at the university, wrote Accessibility Specialist for Undergraduate Students Kaitlyn Rogers in a Sept. 6 email obtained by The Brandeis Hoot.

Rodgers-Kay’s final day at Brandeis will be around the middle of this month, wrote Dean of Academic Services Erika Smith to The Hoot in an email. Academic Services will be posting the open position (director of Student Accessibility Support) next week, wrote Smith.

Rogers sent an email on Sept. 6 to students Rodgers-Kay did or intended to check-in with, read the email, which also contained a message from Rodgers-Kay.

“I am so very sorry not to see each of you through this year; I’ll miss watching the effort, growth and accomplishments I know you will make. I know that the SAS team that continues is capable, dedicated and ready to support your ’19 to ’20 year,” the email read. “Please let them know how they can be of help to you and give them the chance to do so. I am cheering for them and for you!”

Rodgers-Kay provided SAS a list of students for the department to check in with, and a list of students who should continue weekly and or bi-weekly check-ins with the department, according to the email.

Rogers apologized for announcing Rodgers-Kay’s retirement in an email, writing that she wanted recipients to have the information as soon as possible. The larger Brandeis community learned of her retirement in a Justice article on Tuesday.

Ellie Hulan ’22 spoke about Rodgers-Kay’s retirement, which she said was surprising because on July 3, Rodgers-Kay sent an update email about SAS with no mention of her retirement. Hulan said the email seemed like “business as usual.”

Rodgers-Kay was Hulan’s advisor during the last academic year, helping her coordinate with professors and working with her when she was taking a medical underload. Hulan said Rodgers-Kay was very knowledgeable and proactive when working with her.

“It was really nice to have someone who was very proactive and very obviously well-informed,” said Hulan. “She always seemed overwhelmed, but she had it together. I know she was very busy… but she never let anything drop. She was doing a lot.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Rodgers-Kay has worked in higher education since 1989, according to her biography on Brandeis’ website, and was responsible for determining accommodations and services to students with disabilities.

The Hoot reached out to Rodgers-Kay, Rogers, Smith and Accessibility Specialist for Graduate Students Scott Lapinski for comment. The Hoot was referred to Smith, who gave a brief comment.

“She [Rodgers-Kay] is working closely with us to transition her projects, and, more importantly, support for students with whom she has worked,” wrote Smith to The Hoot. We are glad for her partnership on this,” she continued. “While we conduct a search for Beth’s successor, our excellent staff will continue to work hard to serve students’ needs.”

Rodgers-Kay responded with an automatic email reply that she is out of the office and will not check her email at this time and referred the sender to Rogers, Lapinski and two other SAS employees.

Rodgers-Kay’s retirement comes after students have advocated for more accessibility on the Brandeis campus for students with disabilities. As early as 2007, students who used wheelchairs said they struggled to navigate the Brandeis campus with an increasing number of potholes and detours, according to a Brandeis Hoot article.

Rodgers-Kay spoke about the Office of Admissions efforts to create more livable sophomore residence halls for students with disabilities in 2007, including the installation of automatic doors, a ramp and some construction work. Since then, Brandeis has continued to see student activism surrounding accessibility and SAS.

In November 2018, students formed an advocacy group and sent a letter asking university President Ron Liebowitz to hold an open forum on accessibility, which occurred on Jan. 23, 2019, where many students expressed their frustration with accessibility at Brandeis.

“At its core, our message is simple: when access is increased for all students with disabilities, Brandeis will move closer to truly fulfilling its mission,” read the letter.

The letter itself also contained anonymous testimonials criticizing SAS. Testimonies included student difficulties with gaining temporary parking passes during illness flare ups, limited health center resources, unresponsive or dismissive professors, problems with finding appropriate university housing and difficulty meeting with SAS employees.

The testimonies included an individual who said that “I have been struggling with health problems for a while and when I was arranging for medical leave, Beth from Accommodations told me to give up on a college because I was clearly incapable of finishing my college degree.”

The only person in both SAS and the Academic Services department to have the first name “Beth” is Rodgers-Kay, according to the Academic Services and SAS online staff pages.

The forum, held in January 2019, identified several issues on the Brandeis campus for students with disabilities, including transportation, housing, quality of dining hall food and the amount of paperwork needed to prove learning disabilities—leading students to feel like second class citizens.

Just a few days after the forum, Liebowitz announced the formation of The Task Force on the Student Living/Learning Living Experience at Brandeis to address structural improvements on campus, and, in late February, another forum was held which identified priorities including physical accessibility on campus, changing Brandeis’ culture around accessibility and SAS.

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