Towson ex-student seeking $100,000 She says school thwarted efforts to get master's

November 27, 1997|By Suzanne Loudermilk | Suzanne Loudermilk,SUN STAFF

A former Towson University student -- claiming she is being thwarted in efforts to earn a master's degree from the school -- is seeking $100,000 in damages and an opportunity to complete her degree.

Kimberly L. Devenport, who lives in Silverhill, Ala., says the lack of an audiology degree has affected her ability to find work in her specialty, even though she is certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Now, after 10 years of petitioning the university to let her finish the degree -- which she says was interrupted by a medical misdiagnosis -- she has filed for damages as well seeking the chance to take a one-credit practicum course and a comprehensive exam.

But university officials dispute the allegations by Devenport, 36, who is working as a substitute teacher.

They say she had academic difficulties, including problems working with patients in clinical settings, before a medical setback during the spring 1987 semester. She also did not follow guidance offered by university instructors that would have helped her earn a degree during the seven-year time limit, they say.

Devenport began her graduate studies in 1983 after receiving her undergraduate degree in speech and audiology from the BTC university. She says her problems started when she was required to participate in the testing of off-campus auditory equipment. Test results showed she had an irregularity -- and the possibility of a brain tumor -- leading to weeks of worry and several doctors' visits.

'It was a big deal'

"It was a big deal," she says. "It affected my grades."

Further testing determined that Devenport did not have a tumor. But her grades slipped and she failed a course.

That derailed her bid for a master's degree, she says. After arguing with university officials about the issue, she did not complete the degree requirements within the required seven years.

Devenport says that the auditory equipment was faulty and that the testing was at the whim of an instructor.

But the university says that Devenport had a hearing impairment that accounted for the misinterpretation. It also maintains that students were required to participate in the testing so they could sharpen their skills as clinicians.

"It was to put them in the shoes of the patient," Michael Anselmi, university counsel, says.

As early as 1986, Devenport's clinical skills were in question, he says.

During the 1987 spring semester, one of her instructors noted that Devenport was "not displaying the skills of someone who was an advanced student."

Extension sought

Anselmi adds, "There are clearly two sides to this story. Much of what happened occurred many years ago, and she chose her own course. She rejected the advice of administrators. When it didn't work out, she wanted an extension."

Devenport, who says she has spent thousands of dollars on attorneys' fees, feels the university has treated her unfairly. "The dip [in her grades] was just that semester," she says.

She says her grade-point average was 3.0 before and after the semester in question. But the university says her GPA in graduate courses was 2.7, short of the 3.0 needed to take the comprehensive examination.

Devenport filed an appeal last month with the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. She is also seeking $100,000 through the Maryland Treasury Department -- the route she is required to take against state employees, in this case Towson staff members.

Now, Devenport is waiting for the Board of Regents and the Treasury Department to investigate the case. There is no time frame, their spokesmen say.

"All my savings are gone," Devenport says.

"I would not want anyone else to go through this."

Pub Date: 11/27/97

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