The professor had agreed to write a letter of recommendation for a graduate school student application. It was a standard request from a good student, the kind of request the professor receives every semester.
Then came the referral form. And something didn’t seem right.
There was a question about the student’s “physical condition” with these possible answers:
- Often unable to work
- Slightly below average
- Pretty healthy
- Sound Health
- I do not know
The professor – who asked not to be identified so as not to affect his student’s chances of admission – said the question made no sense.
“I have a feeling that some of the questions are totally inadmissible because they are inherently discriminatory,” he said via email. “Perhaps the most obvious are the first few questions about ‘physical condition’. As someone who works in the religious studies academy, I know many religious leaders. Some of these friends and acquaintances are physically disabled (other than disabled). Some have fairly strong physical ones Differences. But they are also some of the most gifted clergymen, rabbis, Dharma teachers (or any other type of religious leader) I know. Physical condition is not an indicator of ability to serve as a preacher. “
The professor also opposed other questions from the Dallas Theological Seminary, which offers classes in locations in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin, Texas and also has locations in Atlanta, Indianapolis, Phoenix, and Washington. It offers 16 degrees, including Masters degrees in Theology, Bible Counseling, Pastoral Care, Christian Education and Christian Leadership, as well as a Ph.D. and other PhD degrees. (Not all programs are offered on every campus.)
For example, when asked about “intelligence”, the lowest rating is “learns and thinks slowly”. But the professor noted that “Deep learning doesn’t happen quickly. In the humanities, we value slow, conscious thinking and recognize that the most in-depth and sustainable learning takes time. In fact, the best learning is lifelong learning.” . “
Or think of the question of an assessment of the applicant’s “teaching ability”.
- Rigid, argumentative
- Very opinionated
- Ready to receive instructions
- Eager for instructions
- I do not know
“There also seems to be a very stubborn negative quality that you want to rule out,” said the professor. “I prefer students who have strong opinions but are open to hearing other people’s opinions and rethinking their own.”
Other questions also preoccupied him.
There is a question about sexuality and whether applicants are following Dallas Theological guidelines and “including avoidance of all addictive patterns and renouncing homosexual, premarital and extramarital sexual behavior”.
And if the applicant is married or engaged, the letter of recommendation calls for an analysis of the relationship as: “superficial”, “aloof, aloof”, “reluctant”, “warm, growing” and “good communication”.
On the website of the seminar, under “How we rate” it says: “As an applicant, you will be assessed on the basis of (1) your academic performance, (2) the scope and quality of your engagement in Christian service, (3) your obvious ones Gifts and potential for Christian service and (4) evaluation of your references. “
Are the questions legal?
The first question that many may ask is the legitimacy of such questions.
John Dyer, Dean of Enrollment Services and Distance Learning at Dallas Theological, said, “I contacted our Admissions Director about the questions we were asking and he mentioned that they generally serve to have a reviewer create a holistic portrait of our applicants In contrast to a traditional graduate school, which primarily assesses the academic performance and study ability of a candidate, DTS as a seminar also tries to get a feel for the future of an applicant in a spiritual environment, such as as a pastor, chaplain or pla-licensed therapist . For each candidate we ask for three references – personal, pastoral and professional – so some questions are more applicable to each type of reference. “
He said a speaker would answer questions about whether it is legal for the seminar to ask these and other questions, but no speaker has ever done so.
Frank M. Yamada is executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, of which the Dallas School is a member.
He said the questions Dallas asks “are non-standard,” and that it is important for any admissions agency to have a clear grasp of why those questions are being asked.
A guide published by the Association for Disability and Theological Education reads on admission: “Schools retain the freedom to make reasonable judgments about students’ appropriate potential for service, including spiritual maturity, moral integrity and capacity for service. Qualified students with disabilities should have potential access to theological education and should be recruited with the same care and enthusiasm as other students. Students with disabilities should apply for admission according to the same guidelines and careful scrutiny as other students to determine if they have the talent and the Willingness to live and learn in a theological community and for future religious leadership. “
The seminar’s non-discrimination policy does not mention disability status. It states: “The Dallas Theological Seminary allows students of all races, colors, nationalities, and ethnic backgrounds all rights, privileges, programs, and activities that are generally granted or made available to students at the school. There will be no discrimination based on race, color, national and ethnic origin in the administration of their education policies, admissions policies, scholarship and loan programs, and sports and other school-administered programs.
Disability is mentioned in the 1972 Seminar Declaration on Title IX of the Education Amendments: “In the context of its theological beliefs and mission, the Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, age, nationality, ethnic origin, or disability . “
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits universities from discriminating against applicants on the basis of disability. Specifically, it says that the universities “may not make inquiries about whether an applicant for admission is a disabled person before admission, but can ask in confidence after admission about disabilities that may require accommodation”.
However, Stephan J. Smith, executive director of the Association for Higher Education and Disability, said that if the seminar did not receive federal funding, it would be exempt from Section 504 and could raise the issue of physical health. The seminar received federal funding under the COVID-19 relief act CARES Act.
When asked if the seminar should ask the question, Smith said, “I don’t have a perfect answer to your question.”
He stated, “I believe that qualified students should not be discriminated against on the basis of speculation, stereotypes and generalizations about people with disabilities. However, I recognize that some specific institutions may not be covered by the legal requirements.”
Angel B. Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling, said, “I think about it: If you weren’t going to ask a question about a job application or interview with an employer, you probably shouldn’t be asking them about college enrollment.”
What did the professor do?
The professor still had to figure out what to do.
“I asked a DTS admissions advisor if instead of the referral form I could submit a letter assessing the student’s academic grades. I was told I could submit a letter, but they hoped the letter would help so many of the Questions about the I understood that DTS wanted me to post essentially the same information requested on the form, “he said.
“After discussing my dilemma with the student, and with the student’s consent, I decided to write a standard academic reference letter (which I haven’t written yet) addressing the student’s academic performance in the courses she attended ,” he said. “I’ll essentially ignore most of the questions or types of information they ask for on the standard form.”