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Gallaudet Students Protest New President

 
 
sozobe
 
Reply Tue 2 May, 2006 07:16 pm
Eighteen years ago, one of the most important developments in Deaf history happened -- the Deaf President Now movement. In 1988, a new president was selected for Gallaudet University (the world's only university for the deaf) -- a hearing president. Student leaders organized a movement that ultimately led to the selection of I. King Jordan, the first Deaf president of Gallaudet.

The movement is a touchstone in most Deaf people's lives -- I've met many of the students who were involved (all roughly my age) and they are permanent celebrities, heroes. I recently met Dr. Jordan and it was an enormous honor. The DPN movement is credited with having an impact on the creation and passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as Gallaudet is in Washington D.C. and the protests were extremely visible to lawmakers.

In general, DPN is seen as being the moment that Deaf Culture came into its own.

Well.

Dr. Jordan has decided to retire, and two days ago, the new president was announced. Her name is Jane Fernandes -- she is Deaf. The other two finalists were also Deaf. However, she is apparently not Deaf enough.

Quote:
Gallaudet Students Continue Protests Against New President

By Susan Kinzie and Debbi Wilgoren
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, May 2, 2006; 10:27 AM

Several dozen Gallaudet University student have launched a second day of protests over the appointment yesterday of provost Jane K. Fernandes as the school's next president.

About 20 student lay prone inside the main gate of the Northeast Washington campus this morning to prevent cars from entering or exiting, while others parked their cars at a second entrance to block it.

A third group, many of whom had also kept vigil through the night, left the demonstrations to attend a meeting with university administrators scheduled for 10 a.m. A rally was scheduled for noon.

Administration officials said they would hear the students' concerns about the appointment of Fernandes to replace retiring President I. King Jordan. But they said that the selection process had been fair and the trustee board would not revisit its decision.

Hundreds of students had blocked the Gallaudet entrances yesterday minutes after the announcement that Fernandes -- who students say is aloof and does not reflect their priorities -- had been chosen. Protesters lay down in the driveway; shouted slogans; climbed onto the stone fences and one another's shoulders to sign to the growing crowd; and scrawled angry words on bare stomachs in thick black paint.


Whole article here.

My inbox is full of impassioned emails and forwards and links to blogs about this. The reaction seems to be overwhelmingly negative.

I'm not sure what I think about it, yet. Dr. Jordan is himself not that culturally Deaf. He lost his hearing when he was in his early 20's, and never became that fluent in ASL. He was a good administrator, though, and a great ambassador -- he was wonderful at communicating with hearing people the experience of being deaf, what it's like, how capable deaf people are and can be. He automatically had the enormous goodwill of the Deaf community because he was the result of DPN -- but I don't know how he would have been received now if he would have been one of the three finalists.

Ms. Fernandes is eminently qualified, and it sounds like she may be able to the president's job very well. That's something I'm still trying to figure out.

What bothers me, though, as I continue to try to make sense of this whole thing, is that it's kind of like the second version of Woodstock -- the next generation trying to manufacture their own magic, participate in their own life-changing event. But "manufacture" is the key word, here, and I'm very worried that it will do a heck of a lot more harm than good.
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ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 2 May, 2006 07:38 pm
I'll go ahead and share your qualms, Sozobe.





Reminds me of the context of when I was last in Washington, having lived there at five for a few months and gone with the girl scouts on a bus when I was thirteen, having gotten my first period while climbing the Washington Monument. Too Much Info, I know, but context. So, back in '87, my husband and I took a short vacation to go there and to Virginia. We walked and walked and walked and walked, only going in a few places.

Among the places I was interested in were hotels, as my by then passed away father had written me letters when I was a child from one of the oldie good DC hotels. Besides, I like them anyway. We walked into the Hays, and the Washington, and the Mayflower, and so on. Decided to go to the Ritz Carlton for a drink on the way back to our lowly Holiday Inn brown toned room with adjacent coffeeshop (yet - across from the Watergate!)

My point... that was where much was going on about AIDS - I think Reagan had just made some pronouncement that I now don't remember.
I think people were refusing to touch people, not being fully equipped with the right suits or something. Perhaps there was a protest there in that area earlier in the day. Think I saw the headline as we walked into the quiet Ritz Carlton for gin and tonics.

I can see protesting in Washington. But.. this woman may be just the right person...
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Tue 2 May, 2006 07:45 pm
just bookmarking. Know nothing about this (my first thought was, Gallaudet, that somewhere in the Caribbean? Some former French colony?), but it sounds interesting.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 2 May, 2006 07:52 pm
I see spin on all sides and haven't really cut through it yet. May be she's a real problem. May be she's good on the administrative side -- which Gallaudet needs -- and just isn't that touchy-feely. (Did you read the WaPo article with the "She doesn't say 'hi'" protest sign? Urgh.)

One of the things I got via email:

Quote:
PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

It was a weird and surreal experience. I had a feeling of deja vu, but even that felt wrong. CM baldwin did a wonderful job building up the excitment for the announcement and said the decision was unanomious, but the name she announced just felt very wrong.

The minute she said, "Dr. Jane Fernandes!" about 10 students immediately got up and walked out. When Dr. Fernandes walked in, a few more people walked out. Nobody clapped. Nobody cheered.

I craned my neck to look at my students who were sitting behind me to gauge their reaction. They were stunned. Nearly everybody in the room looked stunned.

When Dr. Fernandes started signing, she was tight-lipped and talked in a monotone. Immediately after she began, Ryan Commerson, a graduate student who staged a hunger strike at Michigan School, walked up front and said, "if you don't agree with the choice, leave!"

A few more people did indeed leave. When he walked up the aisle, h e was arrested and carted off the campus.

As Dr. Fernandes spoke, small clusters of people got up and left, a few at a time. I tried to focus on what she was saying, but all I was able to see was the terror in her eyes. She kept her face absolutely rigid. Her speech was really dreadful, because nothing sank in. She captured very few people's attention, and people kept on either looking around or getting up to leave.

Fortunately, I saw Adam Stone furiously taking notes, so he is bound to give a good summary of what was said in Dr. Fernandes' speech on deafdc.com. When Dr. Fernandes finished her speech, the remaining audience (which was about 1/3 of what it was at the start) gave her a very half-hearted applause. The tense smile on Dr. Fernandes' face disappeared quickly and she made a beeline to the door stage left. No waving to the audience. It looked like she had dogs at her heels.

It was horrible. The security in the room was very thick, which showed t hey knew they would not receive a warm reception. It was just a very sad shame - it was supposed to be a moment of celebration, not anger.

Professors and staff I spoke to were so dispirited by the announcement. However, they kept on looking around to make sure nobody could see what their comments - certainly not an environment for free-thinking and protected dissent.

As I walked out, many continued to look dazed. I was cutting it very
close, as I had a 3:30 class at George Washington University - and it
was already 2:50. When I got to the mall, I was astounded (but maybe I
shouldn't have been surprised) to see a huge crowd gathered there. I
later learned there was a fire alarm at sau, so it forced everybody out
of the building.

Three students (Noah, the new SBG president, Robert McConnell - one of my students, and a much older man) were on a podium, calling out for a representative for the graduate students and a female student leader , eventually hollering for Tara Holcomb. I saw Bren walking around the fringe of the crowd and disappearing into sau.

Someone (I think Tawny Holmes, the SBG prez from 2004 2005) urged the
students on the podium to send the students to the front gates to stage a sit-in. Everyone moved there. One of my students drove his SUV to the gate and blocked it. Tawny popped her head through the SUV's sun roof and started leading students to chant "better president now" I had to start laughing... Deja vu, but not so deja vu. Present SBG and GSA leaders met while Tawny continued to whip up the crowds. They were trying to figure out their message. When they agreed, Noah got up on the front gate post and asked the crowd if they agreed with the decision. A sea of hands in air, No! Anthony Mowl, last year's Buff and Blue editor, told the crowd that the message must
be unified.

I looked at time and gasped - 3:15!! I was late to my class and I was
scheduled to give a presentation! When I looked up, I saw David King and other BDSU and ASA leaders weave their way to the front, and I knew I had to stick around for at least a few more minutes.

There was a heated exchange between these students and Dana Sipek and a
friend of hers whom I didn't recognize. I didn't catch what was being said, and it was decided to give them some platform time. In the meantime, handlettered and painted signs popped out of nowhere. A student used a marker to write 'better president now!" on his plain white tshirt.

I really had to get to GWU, as it was now 3:30. As I was walking off the campus, I passed one of my students and he was signing to his friend, "exams must be cancelled!" I told him, "Oh no! Exams will stil be on!" He looked at me with murderous eyes Smile

The last I heard, was that the rally ran out of steam, and student leaders are meeting now trying to figure out their next steps.

Ps. I know this is lengthy, but I wanted to capture everything that's still in my memory, and I thought you would be my audience Smile
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Tue 2 May, 2006 08:02 pm
Oy, seems much a shame either way, and also from her point of view.
I'll try to be quiet as I surely don't know enough.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 2 May, 2006 08:03 pm
ossobuco wrote:
Oy, seems much a shame either way, and also from her point of view.
I'll try to be quiet as I surely don't know enough.


Oh, speak away -- I don't know enough either, trying to puzzle it all out.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 01:15 pm
I just realized I know someone on the Gallaudet Board of Trustees (who made the hiring decision), tempted to contact her. But she probably is not in the mood to talk about it...

This is such an awful situation, all around. I've been reading all kinds of things from all kinds of people, some personal and some links/ articles/ blogs, and as far as I can tell it's a rock and a hard place situation. What Gallaudet would most want is someone who is culturally Deaf, charming and charismatic, AND eminently qualified to lead what is after all an institution of higher learning. It looks like they simply weren't able to find anyone who had all of those qualifications in one package, and so they settled for the one who had the best academic and administrative credentials. That makes sense to me.

The person that is the popular favorite doesn't even have a Ph.D.

However, it sounds like Jane Ferndandes has a tendency to rub people the wrong way, and the sheer amount of testimony to that effect makes me think they probably have a point. Still, a lot of that testimony shows a cultural bias, to me. Fernandes is deaf, but didn't learn to sign until she was 23 and is still bi-cultural rather than fully and only Deaf (cap D denoting the culture). A whole lot of what I've seen was "cold," "didn't respond," "angry," etc. As someone who has navigated the Deaf/ hearing cultural divide often and throughly, I recognize this stuff as how a Deaf person perceives a hearing person who is annoyed but trying to be professional.

Good article here with the latest:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/05/07/AR2006050701011.html
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 01:21 pm
(Full disclosure -- of the many reasons this interests me, one is that this is almost EXACTLY what I dealt with when trying to find my replacement as director of my center when I left. There were the charismatic but unqualified ones my clients liked, and there were the qualified ones that my clients were suspicious of, and the two aspects just refused to jump into the same package. Long agonizing search, the one I settled on had a little of this and a little of that if not a lot of either, and I hoped she'd grow into the job... didn't happen. :-()
0 Replies
 
FreeDuck
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 01:21 pm
Weird. I JUST heard this story on NPR this morning. From the students interviewed, the main complaint seems to be that she's not a strong leader. I just don't know how anyone could know that before she's had a chance to lead, but I'm still reading.
0 Replies
 
FreeDuck
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 01:30 pm
Here's the transcript to that part of Morning Edition I heard this morning.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5389972

I admit, again, that I don't know much more than what I heard this morning, but I'm finding it hard not to come down on her side. I mean, if you feel strongly enough to protest, it should be because she's really bad, and it just doesn't sound like she is. One of her quotes from the interview:

Quote:
All kinds of deaf people unified during DPN. This is the second wave of deaf identity politics. Identity politics about who is deaf who can speak to deaf people. Who does Gallaudet belong to? This has nothing to do with DPN, and I'm sorry to say this is a shame what's happening here now.


I don't really know why I find this story so interesting, but I do, on at least two levels.
0 Replies
 
Noddy24
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 02:46 pm
Uninformed passion is a dangerous emotion.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 02:55 pm
Which levels, FreeDuck?

Thanks SO much for the link, looks great.

Haven't finished it yet, but this kills me:

Quote:
Fernandes responds through an interpreter.

JANE FERNANDES: My understanding, my belief is that this is a hostile audience. I believe most of this audience don't support my presidency and I'm willing to be here and step up and be with your pain and the truth of all of this and work through it, if you give me a chance to do this job. Give me a chance to see what I can do. Don't prejudge me.


This is lousy voice interpreting, and why I voice for myself whenever I can. This makes her sound much less sophisticated than she evidently is.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 03:02 pm
Oh, it wasn't as long as I expected.

Some of the stuff I've been sent says that there were polls taken of the student body that says they were 90% against her. I don't know how scientific/ reputable the polls are, but from what I've read (overwhelmingly negative) I think I'd believe it.

Can you tell me what her voice was like? Easily understood? The fact that she spoke for herself brings up another one of the ugly issues in Deaf culture, that those who can speak are often seen as not-quite-Deaf, even if they ARE fully fluent and completely familiar with the cultural mores. On the one hand, I get it -- those who can speak have less of a disability than those who can't. There is also a long and ugly history of deaf people being forced to learn how to speak. On the other hand, I think the prejudice against it within the Deaf community goes to idiotic and ultimately counterproductive extremes.
0 Replies
 
Noddy24
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 03:26 pm
Quote:
On the other hand, I think the prejudice against it within the Deaf community goes to idiotic and ultimately counterproductive extremes.


Idiotic squabbling isn't limited to the Deaf Community. The world is full of self-important souls who feel they are more authentic--and more worthy-- than anyone else.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 03:27 pm
This story reminds me of an episode in Thomas Mann's Buddenbrocks, a story about a 19th century Lübeck family. The book won Mann a Nobel Prize in literature and is very worth reading.

But I digress. The episode this reminds me of happens during the 1848 democratic revolution in Germany. The people of Lübeck gather in front of city hall and shout: "We want a Republic, we want a Republic, we want ...". The mayor shows up, gives an indignated speech, and says "my dear citizens, Lübeck already is a Republic!" (As did some other German cities at the tme.) Responds the crowd: "Well, we want a second one!"

I suspect, as apparently you do, that this generation of Gallaudet students were brought up on the idea that it's noble to get involved in university politics and get a Deaf president elected. The mood may well be getting extra inspiration from the current revival of the civil rights movement in America. Anti-Iraq demonstrations, pro-immigrant ralleys, and so forth. So those students want to get into this groove, demonstrate for their right to have a Deaf president -- but they already have a deaf president.

So they want another one, just like Mann's people of Lübeck wanted another Republic.

PS: I can soooo see the young John Cleese playing the role of one of the student leaders: "We shouldn't be fighting each other, we should be fighting the real enemy." -- "That's right, the People's front of Judea!". But I digress again.
0 Replies
 
FreeDuck
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 05:31 pm
sozobe wrote:
Which levels, FreeDuck?


One is the thing both you and Fernandes allude to regarding a manufactured passion (for lack of a better word). The contrast between DPN and the current protests is stark, to me anyway. But I will confess to having a fairly shallow knowledge of both. It seems that having a deaf president for a deaf school is more important than having a friendly president. I can't imagine bothering to protest for a friendlier president. I'm sure there's more to it than that -- still reading up.

And the other aspect is that of what people expect, want, require of leaders. Is what we think want what we actually want, or what we need? That's a sort of general question that comes to mind whenever leaders are chosen. And I think it's interesting.

I totally agree about the lousy voice interpretation. It did make her sound worse than she sounded when she actually spoke.
0 Replies
 
FreeDuck
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 05:35 pm
sozobe wrote:

Can you tell me what her voice was like? Easily understood?


Yes, she was clear and easy to understand. You could tell by her accent (having trouble finding words tonight) that she was deaf, but every word was clear as a bell. They did mention in the story that part of the prejudice against her had to do with the fact that she didn't learn to sign until she was in her early twenties and had gotten by on lip reading and speaking from birth until that point.
0 Replies
 
Thomas
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 05:46 pm
FreeDuck wrote:
It seems that having a deaf president for a deaf school is more important than having a friendly president. I can't imagine bothering to protest for a friendlier president.

Not to mention "competent". After reading up, this looks like the Larry Summers case at Harvard. A populist uprising against a competent, intelligent president who has the audacity to ruffle feathers, but evidently lacks the charisma to compensate for the ruffling. I can understand if Sozobe's friend on the board doesn't want to talk about it, but I also imagine that she now could use any vibes of general sympathy that Sozobe might be able to send her.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Mon 8 May, 2006 08:33 pm
I was thinking the same thing, Thomas. She's not a friend, exactly -- she is someone I know and who interviewed me for a job. She's very private and I wouldn't want to overstep. But may yet do it, in a very general and no need to get back to me and I'm not baiting you kind of way.

From what I've seen, the feather-ruffling on Fernandes' part was not just audacity in the sense of doing things that are good for the university and heck with the people who don't agree; it was more towards not delivering on promises. As in, her style is/ was a problem, but there seem to be problems with her actual skills as an administrator that I haven't really seen addressed in the media coverage of this.

In general, I think that her detractors have some meat to their accusations, but if not her, then who? She isn't perfect, no, but it doesn't seem like there is anyone out there who is more perfect. (In actuality, not just most popular.) And that's exactly what happens when a position becomes available -- whomever is in charge of the search selects the best applicant. She seems to be the best applicant, perfection aside.

FreeDuck, thanks re: her voice, that's about what I expected from everything I'd read so far. I also recently learned that her husband was hearing -- I knew he was a professor at Gallaudet and so I assumed he was deaf, but no. That all coalesces into a picture of someone who is [insert sign here: the sign for "hearing", which is a finger rotating in front of the lips, placed instead in front of the forehead, which means "someone who thinks like a hearing person even if he/she is deaf."]

I've certainly been accused of that many times (and it is an accusation), although not since about eight years ago, when I became fully bi-cultural. I know how to act so that Deaf people accept me as part of Deaf culture, and then turn around and act "professional" (read: hearing) to the hearing people we need for resources, money, etc., etc. Deaf people don't live in a vaccuum.

Hey, should I apply for the job? (KIDDING.)

Anyway, that is part of my sympathy for the protestors -- if she's been at Gallaudet for that long, she should've figured that stuff out by now. It doesn't reflect well on her that she hasn't... even if it shouldn't be a fatal flaw.

FreeDuck, I was thinking the very same thing about leaders and whether people know what makes a good leader. Interesting subject. I think that, in general, the answer is no, people don't. That's my cynical side, my "Men In Black" side. ("A person is smart. People are stupid.") I think the popularity/ wonkish administrator split is exactly the problem we have on all kinds of levels -- occasionally they're combined (Bill Clinton) but that's rare.
0 Replies
 
sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Tue 9 May, 2006 10:55 am
More stuff in my in-box today... ugh. This is just SO bad for the Deaf community. Evidently there was a vote of no-confidence from the faculty. Dunno if that will do anything.

Quote:
During last night's closed-door, standing-room-only faculty meeting, a resolution of support for Fernandes failed by a vote of 49 to 96. Faculty members then went on to vote 77 to 68 to ask Fernandes to step aside and 85 to 58 to call for the search to be reopened, with no reprisals against anti-Fernandes protesters on the Northeast Washington campus.

The faculty also passed an 80 to 57 vote of no confidence in the board's decision and a 93 to 47 vote of no confidence in Fernandes.


There is also a petition circulating:

Quote:
We, the alumni of Gallaudet University and members of the Deaf community, endorse the following petition:

We recognize that the students of Gallaudet University have staged a protest to the process that resulted in the selection of the University's 9th president. The Student Body Government has issued an official statement with two demands:

1. Have the presidential search process re-opened.

2. No reprisals for students, staff, faculty and alumni.

This petition requests the Gallaudet University's Board of Trustees to agree to these two demands set forth by the students.

We, the undersigned, support this action of the students.


What do they expect to have happen with a re-opened search? I haven't seen evidence that another candidate would be more qualified, except in popularity.

Ugh.
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