Professor who told stuttering student not to speak acted inappropriately, County College of Morris officials say
October 12, 2011
By Dan Goldberg and Nic Corbet
The college today said an adjunct professor acted improperly when she told a stuttering student not to speak in class because he was "infringing on other students’ time."
RANDOLPH — The County College of Morris acknowledged today that an adjunct history professor acted improperly when she told a stuttering student not to speak in class because he was "infringing on other students’ time."
Administrators declined to say whether any explicit disciplinary action was taken against the professor, Elizabeth Snyder, but expressed disappointment with the e-mail she sent sent to Philip Garber Jr. several weeks ago.
"The message was that because it does take him awhile to ask a question or answer a question, that it was interfering with the rights of other students," said Bette Simmons, vice president of student development for the Randolph college.
"That made me feel very mad," said Garber, who filed a complaint with the Office of Student Development.
Garber, 16, of Mansfield, described himself as shy, but said he was eager to participate in his first semester at the school, where he is taking two college courses to supplement his home schooling. Contemplating a career in photojournalism, Garber has been an avid participant in class, but his stutter causes him to speak slowly and methodically — often repeating himself.
"I do enjoy asking questions and participating in debates," he said.
In the e-mail, a copy of which was provided to The Star-Ledger, Snyder urged Garber to save his questions for after class, and said that if he knew the answers he should write them on paper instead. "so we do not infringe on other students time."
"This way, you can express your ideas and knowledge completely and I will have a better understanding of what you know," Snyder wrote in the e-mail. "You can give me the sheet after each class.
"Hope these suggestions help to make your experience in my class enjoyable and productive," she wrote.
Snyder could not be reached for comment today.
Simmons said it would have been better if Snyder had simply advised students in the class to be patient with Garber.
"One of the things that we’re all getting to have a better understanding of is to accommodate a student who stutters is not as easy as providing a sign language interpreter," she said.
Jim McClure, spokesman for the National Stuttering Association, said Garber’s initiative was somewhat unusual.
"The problem most kids who stutter have is they grow up being ashamed of their stuttering and so they don’t speak up in class," McClure said. "When a kid who stutters raises his hand and wants to talk in class, that’s a good thing. That’s a healthy thing."
About 1 percent of the population struggles with stuttering, according to the organization. Originally thought to be a psychological problem, the condition is now considered mostly physiological, and there’s new research that suggests it is often genetic, McClure said.
Snyder has taught at CCM for 10 years. She has not been suspended, but the administration would not comment on internal discussion with an employee.
"We don’t share personnel matters," Simmons said. "It’s a college practice, especially if things are still ongoing."
Garber is now in a separate section of the same history class, and said he is happy with how the matter was resolved.
"I made the decision to switch because I felt that if I stayed, there could be some unforeseen bad consequences," he said. "I do like the college experience."
Geta Vogel, principal at Warren County Technical School, where Garber spent his freshman year in high school, said Garber never had any problems with other students or his teachers. Garber began the school year by e-mailing his teachers explaining his stuttering problem, Vogel said.
Vogel told her staff to show patience and appreciation for who he is.
"Every kid adored him," she said. "I don’t mind going on record for Phil Garber. He is a joy and we were very sorry to lose him."
Students on the CCM campus today were quick to support Garber.
"Don’t teachers usually encourage you to participate in class?" said Mike Cortese, 21, an electronics engineering technology major. "He can’t help the stutter."
Since the New York Times first reported Garber’s story on its website Monday, Garber has received numerous calls, e-mails and texts of support. His YouTube channel, thestutteringman, received more than 70 complimentary comments within 24 hours of the story being published.
"I’ve been very lucky to have avoided much of the discrimination and bullying that many people who stutter experience," Garber said. "To a certain extent, I’m sure this is true of any person with a disability, people will always treat you differently, and it’s not always in a negative way, but it always makes you feel kind of weird."