SAS head makes sudden, unexplained departure
Director of Student Accessibility Support Beth Rodgers-Kay retired at the beginning of the semester.
Shortly after the semester started, Elijah Harrison ’21 walked into the Student Accessibility Support office for a scheduled appointment with Director of SAS Beth Rodgers-Kay. Earlier that day when he had emailed her about running a few minutes late, he received an automated reply from Rodgers-Kay: “I am out of the office. I will not check email during this time.”
In the office, Harrison waited for half an hour before being told that Rodgers-Kay would not be in that day. Instead, Scott Lapinski, the accessibility specialist for graduate students, met with Harrison. Lapinski told Harrison that Rodgers-Kay had retired.
Rodgers-Kay — who had been director of SAS for nearly a decade and a half — stopped showing up for work at the SAS office sometime in late August. According to Director of Media Relations Julie Jette in an email to the Justice, Rodgers-Kay officially retired on Sept. 23. On Aug. 30, SAS learned that Rodgers-Kay would not be coming back to work for at least a few weeks. Some students who had Rodgers-Kay as their case manager were notified of her departure as late as mid September.
An abrupt departure
Rodgers-Kay’s absence was sudden — SAS staff and students who had appointments with her expected her to be in the office and filling appointments on the first day of the semester, Aug. 28. According to SAS Undergraduate Accessibility Specialist Kaitlyn Rogers, SAS staff learned on Aug. 30 — two days after the semester began — that Rodgers-Kay “would not be on campus as we had anticipated,” per a Sept. 24 email to the Justice.
In a Sept. 6 email to the Justice, Dean of Academic Services Erika Smith wrote that Rodgers-Kay’s last day would be in mid-September. Jette clarified in a Sept. 27 email to the Justice that Rodgers-Kay worked from home for “several weeks” until her official retirement date of Sept. 23.
On Sept. 12, two weeks after the start of the semester, Brandeis Academic Services sent an email announcing Rodgers-Kay’s retirement to students registered with SAS. According to Jette, this notification went out to all graduate and undergraduate students registered with SAS.
Neither the University nor SAS has announced her retirement to the general University community. Jette said that the decision to notify the student body at large about the departure of a staff member is up to each department, per a Sept. 21 email to the Justice.
Rogers wrote that Rodgers-Kay “helped us through this transition by providing lists of the students she was working with,” per a Sept. 24 email to the Justice. The remaining SAS team members emailed those students “as soon as we could,” inviting them to make appointments with Rogers, Lapinski or Undergraduate Student Accessibility Specialist Elizabeth Nako.
Rogers wrote in the Sept. 24 email that “due to last-minute changes in Beth’s schedule, some students made appointments during a time we originally thought she would still be on campus.” She explained that Lapinski took Rodgers-Kay’s appointments for the week of Sept. 2.
SAS Program Administrator Jaspreet Mahal wrote in a Sept. 16 email to the Justice, “We read from your previous story that there was some confusion for a small number of Beth’s students at the very beginning of the academic year. We regret that that was their experience and continue to work on connecting with additional students as the transition is a process.” Mahal said in the same email that students who had met “with Beth on a regular basis” had been contacted.
Rogers said that the job description for Rodgers-Kay’s former position, director of SAS, was posted on the Brandeis Workday website on Sept. 16.
Neither the remaining SAS staff, nor the Department of Academic Services, nor the President’s Office offered a reason for Rodgers-Kay’s retirement in their communications with the Justice, despite being asked. No reasoning for the retirement was included in any of the official communications to students in SAS or to the staff.
Student confusion amid Rodgers-Kay’s absence
Elian Wiseblatt ’21, who had Rodgers-Kay as their case manager, told the Justice in a Sept. 18 interview that they were disappointed when they learned that Rodgers-Kay was leaving the department. They said they and their mother had joked that the SAS office “lost the only good thing they had going for them.”
Learning that Rodgers-Kay was leaving was a drawn-out process for Wiseblatt and their family, Wiseblatt said. “My mom figured out that it wasn’t just a few days off,” Wiseblatt said, explaining that their mother, concerned about Wiseblatt’s accommodations, made calls to the school to find out more about Rodgers-Kay’s absence. “Finally, after a long time on the phone, they gave her some information,” Wiseblatt said. “They told her that Beth was out on a health leave.”
Wiseblatt later found out from Harrison, who also had Rodgers-Kay as his case manager, that Rodgers-Kay was actually retiring. “[SAS] wouldn’t even say that to my mom,” Wiseblatt said, emphasizing that they were displeased at the lack of transparency regarding Rodgers-Kay’s retirement.
Wiseblatt said the first time they received an automated email reply from Rodgers-Kay that she would be out of the office was on Aug. 29. The email said she was out of the office, and did not specify a return date. After that, Wiseblatt called and scheduled an appointment with Rodgers-Kay for the week of Sept. 2.
Later, when Wiseblatt arrived for their appointment, they were told that Rodgers-Kay was still out of the office. “I waited like three or four minutes for my meeting and they were like, ‘Oh, Beth isn’t here,’” Wiseblatt recalled.
Wiseblatt said they were referred to Lapinski for their meeting instead. While Wiseblatt said they thought Lapinski was helpful, they said that because Lapinski is a graduate student specialist, he did not specialize in what they needed help with as an undergraduate. Wiseblatt said they were grateful for Lapinski’s help, but that it was “not the same” as when Rodgers-Kay was their case manager. Wiseblatt noted that with Lapinski, the rapport they had with Rodgers-Kay had to be reestablished.
Wiseblatt said that Rodgers-Kay told them at the end of the Spring 2019 semester that she would be available all summer via email if Wiseblatt needed her help. “She obviously didn’t know that she wasn’t coming back,” they said. “I’m not upset with her, but I’m upset with the way that Accessibilities decided to go about not doing anything about it. They definitely were scrambling.”
Wiseblatt added that their roommate also said she had an appointment with Rodgers-Kay for Sept. 6 and had not been notified that Rodgers-Kay would be out that day.
Harrison said he also had trouble getting in touch with Rodgers-Kay starting in August. After reaching out to her in August, he received an automated out-of-office email from Rodgers-Kay on Aug. 28. In the auto-reply, she listed the emails of other SAS employees and also provided a phone number where “appointments can be scheduled via reception.” The Justice reached out to Rodgers-Kay on Sept. 11 and received the same email.
Harrison emailed Rogers on Aug. 28 to see if she could help him. Rogers replied the same day, writing, “Thank you for reaching out! Beth will communicate with you about making a meeting with her once she returns to the office.”
Harrison called to make an appointment, and on the day of his appointment, he sent Rodgers-Kay an email to notify her that he was running late. He got the same automated email response. When Harrison arrived for his appointment, SAS staff told him that Rodgers-Kay was out for the day. “I was here for the appointment. No one had told me,” Harrison said. “To this day there’s no email notification” about his appointment with Rodgers-Kay being cancelled, he said. Harrison, too, was handed off to Lapinski, who told him that Rodgers-Kay had retired and that SAS had been caught by surprise.
Effects of an unexpected departure
Mahal told the Justice that despite Rodgers-Kay’s sudden departure, staff members were not experiencing an increase in their workloads. “We have been able to adjust, rather than significantly increase, workloads of the team so that during this interim period, students will be able to receive prompt support from the unit,” she said.
Lapinski — one of the recipients of part of Rodgers-Kay’s caseload — noted in a Sept. 5 email to the Justice that he could not meet with the Justice for an interview because he had “a lot of student meetings.” He continues, “As you can imagine, it’s been a busy start to the semester.”
No more questions
After a month of back-and-forth communication, Jette told the Justice in a Sept. 27 email that SAS had "shared the information that they can make available without violating privacy."
Smith did not reply to requests for comment on when they knew Rodgers-Kay would be retiring or when she last came into the SAS office.
— This article was updated to avoid repetition.