Thursday, August 9, 2012

2006: My fight for education

In 2006, Levin College of Law originally refused to admit me for my second American and third total law degree. But I never gave up and with a lot more pushing and some more convincing I did get in that coming Spring. Sometime before that happened the Florida Law Docket published this text I've written about myself.  While it feels miles away and years if not decades ago it helps to remind me where I came from. Although today I practice law in two jurisdictions, it keeps me grounded. And it reminds why I got into this in the first place, having very few allies, feeling lost and alone.
This is the text as published in the Law school Docket. Thanks to Frisco and Brian for making this possible. 

I was twenty-five when I first arrived in Gainesville. My goal in leaving Poland was to find a place where my wheelchair would matter as little and possible. I wanted to succeed, to have a normal life and career—or at least more normal than conditions at home would permit. In my journeys I have overcome a language barrier and the trials of cerebral palsy. Coming to America was a huge leap, but the administration of the Levin College of Law has been my biggest obstacle.

In my home country, I was in the top one percent of my class. Despite that my grades and writing skills merited awards and scholarships, I was not able to take advantage of them. Courts and offices lacked ramps and elevators. Mass transit systems were not designed to accommodate wheelchairs. I might have looked really good on paper but in the real world I was just a disabled person with a diploma in Latin, not being able to run errands, get to clients or even to the firm's office.

The international LLM programs generate a lot of publicity for the Levin College of Law. The administration is caring and helpful and smiling foreign students end up on informative brochures. I took part in this program, and everything was fine until I decided to apply for a JD. It seemed like the logical thing to do, as I’d be able to remain in the US and practice law. All I had to do was take a standardized test and apply. 

I was born with cerebral palsy, a condition that not only creates problems with writing but also involves muscle spasms and tensions. For UF exams, my disability accommodations usually include extra time and scribe assistance. However, coming from Poland, I didn't have the proper ADA standardized documents that would permit me to be accommodated. I did get evaluated by the UF Infirmary, and the UF ADA office reviewed the findings and suggested that I receive accommodations. Yet, the LSAT administration refused my requests, saying the paperwork was lacking. Even if it was I had nothing to do with it, as all the documents were filled out and faxed by the UF Infirmary. 

My application for the JD program was rejected based on a poor LSAT score. UF knows I need disability accommodation and has always provided them, yet it has no problem accepting a score that it knows does not reflect my potential. The LSAT people told me that I cannot appeal their medical findings and they refuse to explain precisely what is wrong with my application. I've met with a number of people working with the administration thinking that I haven't been vocal enough about my problem. The Admissions Committee seemed genuinely sympathetic so I felt encouraged to file an appeal. The appeal, and everything else I’ve tried, has proven futile.

When I met Dean Jerry for the first time to discuss my problem he mapped out possible solutions and even offered to investigate. When I met him again two weeks later his attitude was different. He hadn't had the time to look into what happened and he seemed very eager to ship me off to another Florida law school. All in all, the Dean did nothing but smile and shake my hand. The UF Law administration has not helped me and no other public schools are willing to allow me to advance the credits I've completed here. 

The UF ADA stopped responding to my emails ever since I've graduated. My appeals have succeeded only in irritating the administration. Dean Patrick informed me that a decision would be reached within two weeks. It took them six and the denial was written on my birthday. The extra month they took for no apparent reason was the time I would have needed if I decided to attend any other school. Getting settled in a new town takes time if you're in a wheelchair and without any support from friends and family. By the time I got my letter, a week before going to New York to take the Bar Exam, it was clear I would have to stay in Gainesville. UF’s delay sealed my fate.

When the decision came, I appealed again, this time to the Disability Admissions Committee that apparently exist within law school. I figured if anyone can appreciate the role my disability played in the whole process it would be them. Sadly, my petition was denied. UF claimed to have properly accommodated my disability. It is true that they were appreciating my disability at every exam that I've taken. But in the admissions process, the LSAT is simply the most important of all the factors considered. Without intervention, my LSAT score and rejection for the UF JD program both stand.

I'm being denied not because I'm not qualified to be admitted, but because of bureaucratic red tape and administrative apathy. If I don't get back to school or get a job, I'll be on a plane by February, headed home to Poland. Thinking back what has happened to me, I can only conclude that logic, reason and compassion clearly went out the window when my application was considered. This letter  is my final recourse.

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