Updated Feb. 25, 6:14 p.m.
When Sarah Kim, BC '17, arrived at Kent Hall on Monday morning, she was greeted by a sign that announced the building's elevators would be shut down "until further notice." Rather than miss her two classes located in Kent, Kim, who has cerebral palsy, left her wheelchair to climb to her class on the fifth floor and then to her next class on the sixth floor.
Kent's elevator has been out of service since last Thursday due to water damage and will likely not be operational until sometime during the week of Feb. 29, according to a Facilities spokesperson. However, a lack of communication between Facilities, the Office of Disability Services, the Office of the Registrar, and faculty resulted in classes continuing to be held in Kent until the following Tuesday, forcing students with disabilities to miss multiple class sessions.
"I was amazed how there was no communication between ODS and Facilities," Kim said.
ODS was first notified of the elevator shutdown last Thursday—not by Facilities, but by Eun Byoul Oh, CC '18, who arrived at Kent for a class that morning. Because she uses a wheelchair, Oh was unable to attend her Japanese and Chinese classes that day.
According to Oh, ODS was unaware of the elevator shutdown when she contacted them, but an ODS coordinator emailed Oh's professors to excuse her from classes that day.
Oh assumed the elevator would be fixed before she had to take a makeup test on Monday morning in Kent. Half an hour before the test, Oh said she received an email from her professor stating that the elevators still appeared to be out of service.
The email was the only notification Oh received that morning, with no word coming from ODS, the registrar, Facilities, or another administrative office.
"I was looking at my inbox literally every second," Oh said. "Nothing came in."
Oh said she called ODS again that day and was told her classes had been relocated to Hamilton Hall. The next day, however, no one but Oh came to the class's new location in Hamilton, and she learned from a friend in the class that it was still being held in Kent Hall. Oh encountered the same issue with her other class, which she had been told was relocated to the International Affairs Building, and once again the following day with the first class.
University Registrar Barry Kane said that the Office of the Registrar was first informed of the situation in Kent on Friday afternoon by ODS. The Office of the Registrar then provided ODS with the official room relocations on Monday morning, according to Kane, but had mistakenly assumed that ODS coordinators would notify the affected faculty members in addition to students, which Kane called a "miscommunication."
"Moving forward, we're not going to have this level of misunderstanding because we don't want this to happen again," Kane said.
Kane said that, in future situations involving class relocations, the Office of the Registrar is understood to be solely responsible for notifying faculty members involved.
Spectator was able to confirm that emails from Assistant Registrar Lenore Hubner notifying professors of classroom relocations were not sent until Tuesday afternoon—one day after ODS told Oh her class had been relocated—resulting in the miscommunication.
Additionally, East Asian languages and cultures department lecturer Ling Yan, who teaches Oh's Chinese class, confirmed that the email she did receive from Hubner on Tuesday instructed her to inform students of the relocation herself.
Leah Jacobsen / Staff Designer
Because of the lack of communication between offices, Oh missed a total of five classes—all of which still took place in Kent despite the elevator being out of service—between last Thursday and this Tuesday. Oh said she did not attempt to tell her professors of the classes' new locations because she assumed ODS had filled them in.
"It's not my duty, and who am I to say it? I'm not an official here," Oh said.
Similarly, Jess Silfa, GS '16, was unable to attend a creative writing class in Kent on Thursday due to the fact that her disability prevents her from climbing stairs. When Silfa learned of the elevator shutdown on Thursday, she emailed both ODS and the creative writing department. As a result, the creative writing department was able to temporarily relocate one class session without collaborating with ODS.
On Monday, Silfa—like Oh—was notified by ODS that her classes would be relocated that afternoon. However, Silfa said her professor remained unaware of the relocation until Silfa personally emailed her.
"It seems like there really doesn't exist right now any kind of alert system," Silfa said. "It forces you to be reactionary instead of proactive."
Silfa said she believes the problem could have been solved if ODS had been made aware of the elevator breakdown sooner and was able to coordinate the relocation between professors and the Office of the Registrar more quickly.
"We have all these offices that don't talk to each other. Once Facilities knows that an elevator is out, they should tell ODS, and ODS should tell other students that have disabilities and professors," Silfa said. "The fix is so within grasp, and yet it doesn't happen. You could have sent out an email, but you didn't."
According to Kane, there is no standard system of communication between Facilities and the Registrar's Office when services such as elevators break down.
"It's rare that we even hear from Facilities," Kane said.
However, both Silfa and Oh said they believe no individual member of ODS was to blame for the miscommunication.
"I definitely have no malice to the ODS at all, I think they're trying," Silfa said. "But I think they're working within a model that just doesn't work anymore."
"The problem comes when they can't ... get their paper trail together and send an email blast," Oh said. "The real problem is the bureaucracy."
Silfa added that she believes this lack of communication is just one incident within a pattern of general disregard for students with disabilities at Columbia.
"Being disabled on campus feels a little bit like being homeless in New York City, how the homeless are almost ignored. People just do not understand the realities of it, how difficult it is, how isolating it is," Silfa said. "We know that students who are disabled here face stigma. On top of everything else, now I can't even get to class?"
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Sarah Kim has multiple sclerosis. In fact, she has cerebral palsy. Spectator regrets the error.