“I have no problem being arrested,” Grant Pardy says.
He’s talking about how he intends to mobilize against the recent choice not to renew Neera Datta’s position. Datta is the Learning Disabilities specialist who will be let go in June due to Dalhousie’s budgetary constraints.
Datta was the only Learning Disabilities specialist available to students at the three schools that Dal’s Counselling Centre serves: Dalhousie University, the University of King’s College, and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University.
“I am just so sick and tired of failing classes where I know the information,” Pardy says. But Pardy—a BSc student of mathematics who has ADHD, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder, and a learning disability that affects reading—doesn’t stop smiling. He may be angry, but he’s full of enthusiasm.
Pardy is one of a small group of students that are getting together to protest the cut. At press time, students were organizing a planning meeting, to happen on March 23.
When Bonnie Neuman, Dalhousie’s VP of Student Services, was asked what might change her decision, Neuman said, “this isn’t about Neera personally. This is about looking at all the services across all of our departments.”
“It’s not that students will have absolutely no alternative,” Neuman said. “There is an alternative. It’s just that students will have to pay for it.”
Datta offers psychological assessments, which start at about $1,500, according to a recent article in the Halifax Commoner. She also offers specialized study-technique education for students with learning disabilities.
Neuman said that students would now have to fund specialist services like Datta’s through the Dalhousie Student Health Plan, government grants, and family support.
Neuman said that her entire portfolio, which includes services like the Registrar’s Office and International Student Services, faced a 6.5 per cent cut due to a lack of available funding. At the same time, the numbers of students with disabilities who need “basic accommodation” like advocacy, scribes, or quiet test-writing spaces has increased. She says that while Counselling Services will no longer have Datta, she’ll be increasing funding to Student Accessibility Services to meet these other needs.
“We’ve been able to add an extra level of service for the students that she was able to help,” Neuman said, “but there’s a basic level of service that first has to be met.”
Neuman also added that Dalhousie doesn’t usually provide tutoring to students.
But Pardy says Datta’s services aren’t an extra, and they aren’t tutoring: they’re requisite psychological supports for his success at university.
Pardy wanted to take courses in history during his final year at Dalhousie. “Knowing I could see Neera was a source of comfort,” he said. He is now going to forgo these electives, because he has difficulties with reading and processing information without help.
Pardy hopes high school guidance counsellors will take Datta’s expired contract into account when advising students. “Tell them, don’t go to Dal.”
Neuman says the position was cut because a government grant, which paid for approximately half of Datta’s salary, was not renewed.
“Short of deciding to cut something else in order to invest more money in this area,” Neuman said, it would be impossible to maintain Datta’s position.
When asked if high-level Dalhousie administrators would consider cutting their own salaries, she responded, “it’s a sophisticated sort of issue.”
Neuman said that she felt that cutting the Learning Disabilities specialist was done “in a very honest way.”
“I don’t believe in hiding the decisions that have to be made,” she said.
The Gazette tried to get in touch with Neuman for Torey Ellis’ March 18 article “Dal cuts Learning Disabilities Specialist.” But Neuman refused comment, and denied media access to Counselling Services.
When asked why Neuman had blocked access to the department, Dalhousie University president Tom Traves said, “people don’t go around giving their own view of things. It’s an organization, someone has to give an organizational view … (Neuman) should be able to talk to you.”
Neuman called the Gazette to comment later that day.
When asked why she had blocked media access to the Counselling Services department, she said, “that’s not their appropriate role.”
Neuman said that Victor Day, the director of Counselling Services, “knows that his job as the director … is to be supportive of the decisions that are made.”
“The director said to me that he wanted me to sign the communications with parents and students that are going out because I was the one making the budget decision,” she said.
Victor Day would not comment for this story.