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13-Year-Old UConn Student Claims Bias

Chicopee John

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The Hartford Courant March 17, 2010



To Colin Carlson, it's clearly a case of discrimination.


As a double-degree honors student with a 3.9 grade point average at the University of Connecticut, he was a natural candidate for an African ecology course offered this semester that involved a summer field study in South Africa.


In fact, when he decided to go to UConn, it was partly because this course particularly addressed his interests in the interplay between culture and the environment.


However, Carlson, a prodigy, is 13 years old. And he believes that the professor who is teaching the course turned him down last fall because of his youth.


His mother, Jessica Offir, offered to pay her own way on the trip to chaperone Carlson and to release the university from any liability, but she said the university's response remained a firm "no."


Carlson, who plans to earn a doctorate degree and then a law degree, says, "If you don't feel comfortable taking a 13-year-old just because you don't, then it's the same thing as if you don't feel comfortable having a black student on your trip or having a woman on your trip."


"If you can't teach any student that the university deems capable of taking your class and teaching them, then you shouldn't be teaching. You can't pick and choose your students based on personal comfort."


Colin and Offir contend that the decision violates the university's anti-discrimination policy and state and federal civil rights law. The Coventry family has filed a complaint with the university's Office of Diversity and Equity and with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.


Mike Kirk, a spokesman for the university, said he can't comment on cases in which litigation might be involved. However, he said, when it comes to trips abroad, "generally speaking student safety is our No. 1 concern."


If his mother accompanies him on the trip, Carlson doesn't see any reason for the university to worry about his safety any more than that of other students. "Yes, something could happen," he said. "I could get eaten by a lion, but I am at just the same risk as any other student."


If the university believes it's unsafe for him, Carlson said, "by that logic, no one should be going on the trip and UConn should not be offering a study abroad program."


Carlson started taking courses at UConn at age 9 and matriculated as a freshman last year. He has excelled at UConn, and professors who have worked with him have nothing but praise for both his academic talents and his ability to get along easily with other students.


Carlson's lawyer, Michael H. Agranoff, said that although it appears that Carlson's age was the reason he was not allowed into the course, it is not clear exactly why his age is a problem. "Given the fact that UConn did accept him," said Agranoff, "I'm not sure yet what UConn's problem really is."


After he was turned down for the African field ecology course, Carlson was admitted to another ecology and evolutionary biology course that also involves field study in South Africa. However, it focuses on plants — rather than animals, which are his greater interest. In addition, because he applied late for the course — delayed while waiting to hear whether he was accepted into the African field ecology course — there was no grant money left for Carlson. He expects that his family will have to pay his way at close to $4,000, plus the cost of his mother's travel expenses.


Carlson fears now that the university might find a way to keep him from going on this field trip, as well. Offir said, "We are willing to do anything and everything to assuage their fears on the liability front." Carlson said he also fears that his financial aid might be in jeopardy.


Until now, Carlson said, his education has gone smoothly at UConn, and he has enjoyed it greatly. "I'd like to say that I am really shocked that the university would behave this way," said Carlson. "I don't go looking for fights. I'm generally a very agreeable person."


Professor Carl Schlichting, the professor who has agreed to have Carlson in his class and on the South African trip, said in an e-mail that he "easily qualifies for inclusion" and is "a fine student."


Professor Isaac Ortega, the professor who was teaching the class to which Carlson was not admitted, was out of the office and could not be reached for comment.


Chris Simon, a professor in the department of ecology and evolutionary biology and Carlson's adviser, said that he is a "fantastic student" who "asks the kinds of questions that usually come from graduate students or a colleague" and is "very mature."

Copyright © 2010, The Hartford Courant




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"You can't pick and choose your students based on personal comfort".


I would like to hear what the teacher has to say, but isn't there are some liability issues here? I am sure he is a great student, but there are specific laws to protect children. When schools take 13 year old kids to the museum there has to be a number of teacher or aids per student, let alone oversees. I know it's one kid but as Forrest says "it's whole other country". Unless there is something I don't know, I don't know what the big deal is here.

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I don't see why he can't just wait til he is old enough.


Is that kinda like not being allowed to go on a ride at


Cedar Point because you are only 8 and not tall enough?


It's cool the kid is brilliant, but K is right - surely


there are liability issues for minors, and


also, surely there are of age students who


can go in his place before they graduate and lose their chance.

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I'm kinda of shocked you guys are on the side of the school here. By admitting him they are conceding that he is of a higher mental capacity than a normal 13 year old. And his mothers willingness to chaperon and to waive the school of any liability should have settled any legal concerns. That boils down to the school merely injecting a secondary (and contrary) parental view into the situation. He should have been allowed to go, period; if he met the scholastic requirements along with the extras then the school should have resigned that they had a gifted pupil and learned to celebrate it.

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Rules are rules. This should've been looked at beforehand. Someone made a great error in allowing him to be excepted in the first place.


Lets play Devils Advocate


Did the student and mother know that he may not be allowed beforehand, but proceeded anyways?

If so, shame on them. If not shame on the school for not allowing him to take the class.


Well maybe they should give the young prodigy permission to purchase alcoholic beverages also while they are at it.

(and for heckles that is what we call sarcasm, but as we all know computers dont understand sarcasm. botboy)





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Rules are rules. This should've been looked at beforehand. Someone made a great error in allowing him to be accepted in the first place.




But it's his parents that made the error. No matter what happens, this kid's going to be xxxxed up in the end. The percentage of child prodigies that end up being complete wastes of life when they grow up is pretty high. You're supposed to enjoy your childhood.



But I digress... This is discrimination, but let's be honest, if you're going to study abroad, who wants to keep an eye on a 13 year old? As a professor, you don't get to pick who you allow in class. When you do a study abroad program, in my opinion, all liability is on you, regardless of whatever waiver the mom signs. The people that are allowed to go on study abroad trips should be under the residing professors' discretion. I could care less how intelligent or mature a 13yo is in a classroom for three hours a week, that is WAY different from having to be supervised 24 hours a day for a week or two. I don't blame this Ortega guy at all. Granted, my side of the argument is a slippery slope, I can see that this might be overturned.




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