The idea of giving special treatment to people with disabilities is somewhat controversial. The UNC School of the Arts has had to deal with this issue over the past two years while dealing with a lawsuit from Erin Dickinson, a former graduate student.
Dickinson, a Pennsylvania native, believes that the institution has discriminated against her due to her medical conditions. She suffers from poly-cystic ovary syndrome and migraine headaches, both of which conditions caused her a great deal of debilitating suffering while she attended the school and led to her missing classes. She alleged that the instructors and administration of the school discriminated against her by penalizing her for those absences. In her 26-page complaint, she said that the school played a role in a sequence of actions that led to her expulsion in 2011. The lawsuit was initially filed in the Forsyth Superior Court, but it was moved to the US District Court, as Dickinson claimed that the institution had violated her rights according to the federal American with Disabilities and Rehabilitation acts.
Dickinson had requested that a federal court order that the school clear her academic record and award her a master’s degree or set fair terms for her to complete one at this point.
One of the defendants, Franco Colavecchia, is a now-retired set design teacher who gave Dickinson an incomplete grade in the spring of 2009. The registrar’s office changed his grade to an F in 2010 because she had not completed the requirements for that course within the academic year. The university has agreed now not to calculate this grade as a part of her GPA. Colavecchia does not agree with the outcome of this lawsuit and believes that the school is not abiding by its own rules. He stated during a telephone interview, “She failed — end of story.”
Dickinson can be readmitted to the school this fall to finish her master’s degree in fine arts and will not be required to live in Winston-Salem while pursuing this degree. The school has also agreed to give her $5,000 in scholarship funds for her thesis and to pay $35,000 of her attorney fees. However, other monetary damages are not included in this settlement.
Dickinson agreed on the settlement on June 24, which was 17 days before the trial was supposed to start in US District Court.