I have been suffering from a chronic, progressive disease the last few years, but during this past spring semester, it advanced much more rapidly, leading to massive declines in both my physical and emotional health. My teaching evaluations suffered, since I was just not in a place to spend much time working on prepping for lectures, and the changes I had hoped to incorporate didn't work as planned.

What's the best way to go about making sure this information is properly documented, so it has as minimal an impact as possible on my promotion and tenure cases? We do an annual review, and I have already been in communication with my chair and dean, who are aware of my situation.

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    What country is this? How are disability accommodations usually handled? I'm going to add a tag for "disability" since the issues are similar for any disability which interferes with productivity. Aug 20, 2017 at 15:15
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    How this should be handled can depend a great deal of your university's local policies. In my department, a colleague broke both her legs and was confined to a wheelchair for over a year. It cost her heavily, and she was denied tenure. Literally the day after her employment ended, the university announced a new policy to stop the tenure clock and provide accommodations for tenure-track faculty who had experienced serious medical or family problems.
    – Buzz
    Aug 20, 2017 at 15:19
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    @Buzz Wow. That is really unfortunate and illustrates why this kind of issue need to be handled through formal channels. Depending on the country, what happened to your colleague might be illegal. Aug 20, 2017 at 15:31
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    I'm sorry to hear this. I think you should talk with your department chair/dean immediately, both to document your situation (if only informally) and to learn if there is any mechanism for medical leave or similar accommodation. Sadly, policies differ wildly even within the same country (or at least in the US).
    – JeffE
    Aug 20, 2017 at 16:43
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    @JeffE Policies might differ, but refusing reasonable accommodation is illegal discrimination in the US, and I believe it is illegal in the EU. The OP seems to have already spoken informally to the chair and the dean, so s/he should probably get legal advice if s/he can't get some kind of written assurance from them or a clear answer about how to document the disability. Aug 20, 2017 at 17:19

2 Answers 2


(I'm very sorry for your troubles...)

To supplement other comments and answers:

In my experience (at R1 places in the U.S.), while mostly undergrads' and grad students' (broadly speaking) "disability issues" have a roughly appropriate procedure in place, just as an illustrative and ominous example, this does not seem to extend to grad students who've (e.g.) had their leg broken in a car accident through no fault of their own. That is, one of my students had this happen, could not do TA (teaching assistant) duties, and had to petition for "leave of absence" and was supposedly not allowed to be on campus, use the library, etc., but was allowed to (!) petition to return. This policy was beyond the power of my department to alter. I was told that the university is "more caring" about faculty in similar situations... presumably because they've invested more in them. But, my point is, I would be very suspicious and untrusting.

E.g., it might happen (given my observations) that dept head and lower-level deans are sympathetic, supportive, and quasi-promise that they'll accommodate... but then eventually discover that "university policy" prevents them from doing what they promised they'd do. E.g., even a signed document from them may easily (!) be countermanded by higher-ups, claiming that they did not have the authority to make the promises they made.

Yes, talk to the disabilities office. The "Americans with Disabilities Act" has not yet been scrapped (fingers crossed), and U.S. (especially public, in the U.S. as opposed to U.K. sense) have considerable power to set accommodations. Yes, they attempt to "negotiate" with relevant work-place authorities, but the rough idea is that you cannot be fired or marginalized for (new or old) disabilities. Having things in place with the Disabilities Office may be your best "insurance" against higher-ups' disavowing your departments' agreements with you, since they cannot so effortlessly over-ride them. I'd absolutely do this.

And, above all, no "accommodation" should include your losing your health insurance just because you have some periods when you can't teach classes!!! Obviously, in the U.S., anything like that is very, very dangerous for people who are not Magically/Luckily Healthy. The reason I mention such a thing is that my student, mentioned above, did lose health insurance exactly due to the broken leg that made him unable to TA... Luckily, I believe his partner's employment covered him. A bit too unfunny, non-recreational Kafka-esque for my taste.

(Again, very sorry about your increasing troubles, and best hopes for no additional troubles due to bad bureaucracy...)

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    Thankfully, our university is surprisingly progressive on healthcare. Even if you're on full leave, you can maintain your insurance by continuing to pay the regular premiums. Also, we've gone pretty high up the ladder communicating with the administration, so it should be clear what's going to be allowed.
    – aeismail
    Aug 21, 2017 at 2:56

My advice is that you decide exactly what you feel would be an appropriate accommodation and then check with whatever office handles disability issues for faculty about how to document that accommodation. Unfortunately, many US universities are still behind the curve in accommodating faculty with disabilities, so you may need to be persistent.

Do not "negotiate" with the dean or the chair about this because compromising about your accommodations can be used against you later. I'm not saying that you should be adversarial about it, but any power you have here is now, while they are being cooperative. As Buzz's comment above shows, if you don't get this written in stone now, it will be too late after review.

  • We've already spoken about stopping the clock if I need advanced treatment (which I almost certainly will), but I will definitely make sure everything is written out. However, some things are still being worked out as we go along—as you said, they're not quite up to speed when it comes to faculty.
    – aeismail
    Aug 20, 2017 at 19:04
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    @aeismail As far as P&T goes, there should be no reason they need to see any medical documentation. That should be handled by the disability office, which might provide an accommodation such as excluding your Spring 2017 teaching evaluations from consideration. That's all the P&T committee needs to know. Aug 20, 2017 at 20:03
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    Inagree with @ElizabethHenning. I have seen successful promotion cases where the applicant clearly had extra time on their clock. When members of the P&T committee asked why the tenure clock had been delayed, the chair told us the delay was irrelevant to the case (as per university policy), and the reasons were none of our business.
    – JeffE
    Aug 21, 2017 at 8:55

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