Protests Against President-Designate at Gallaudet U. Intensify

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Thu Oct 12 13:31:09 UTC 2006
Thursday, October 12, 2006

Protests Against President-Designate at Gallaudet U. Intensify With Campus


Student protesters sealed off Gallaudet University, the world's only
university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, on Wednesday in an
escalation of their protests against the choice of the institution's next
president. The campus takeover, led by Gallaudet's football team several
hours before dawn, has deepened the crisis the 142-year-old institution
has been facing since protests began last May. Classes were canceled and
offices were closed on Wednesday, as protesters blocked the main entrance
and allowed only supporters to enter. Protest leaders said they had used
chains, locks, and parked cars to block other entrances of the large,
leafy campus in northeast Washington.

The atmosphere at the main gate on Wednesday morning was friendly but
determined. A line of students, many wearing T-shirts saying "Unity for
Gallaudet," stood behind a heavy rope strung across the entrance road. A
big white banner proclaimed, "This is not justice." Toward the end of the
morning, a van loaded with food entered, and sandwiches, fruits and snacks
were distributed to the several hundred protesters, who were mostly
students but also included some faculty members and alumni. After the
takeover, Jane K. Fernandes, the president-designate opposed by the
protesters, issued a written statement, vowing not to give up her
appointment. "If I abandoned my commitment at this point, which I have no
intention of doing," she wrote, "it would only become worse for the
university, in general, and future Boards of Trustees and presidents, in

"We live in a country that is governed by the rule of law, not anarchy."
In a separate written statement I. King Jordan, who is stepping down as
Gallaudet's president at the end of the year, said, "Civility, integrity,
and truth are victims today, held hostage as much as our beloved campus. I
have been asked why I haven't used police to end the standoff. It is
because I care about the safety of all of our students more than the
protesters care about anything but getting their way." He added, "This
illegal and unlawful behavior must stop. The faculty members who are
instigating and manipulating the students have simply gone too far in
pursuit of their own agendas." Mr. Jordan has been very popular since he
was swept into office by a "Deaf President Now" protest movement almost
two decades ago. But his popularity appears to be falling victim to the
current crisis. Protesters screamed at him and his family during a
university ceremony last Thursday.

"We are losing respect for him fast," Ryan K. Commerson, a master's
student in cultural studies and one of the protest leaders, said on
Wednesday. The confrontation began last May, after the institution's Board
of Trustees announced it had chosen Ms. Fernandes to succeed Mr. Jordan,
starting in January. She was provost at the time. Protests began almost
immediately after that announcement. A week later, the faculty approved a
motion of no confidence in her leadership.

Critics say Ms. Fernandes is not a strong enough advocate for the deaf
community and makes decisions without adequately consulting the faculty.
Ms. Fernandes is deaf but was raised in an "oral" environment, learning
sign language only at the age of 23 (The Chronicle, May 19). Protests
resumed last week, after the university's summer break, when the board met
and reaffirmed its choice of Ms. Fernandes. Students began occupying Hall
Memorial Building, the campus's main classroom building, late last
Thursday. Administrators said negotiations on ending the building
occupation had been going well. But late Tuesday evening, a group of
students, led by the football team, decided to intensify the protest by
taking over the whole campus, university officials and protest leaders

The precipitating factor appeared to be a statement by Mr. Jordan that was
shown on the evening television news. Mr. Jordan said that a list of two
dozen demands by protesters -- including a guarantee that after ending
their occupation, students could continue demonstrating in the building's
atrium -- was "unacceptable" and "off the negotiating table." Mercy H.
Coogan, a spokeswoman for Gallaudet, said the television reports
misrepresented Mr. Jordan's message by leaving off the rest of his
statement, in which he added that discussions should nonetheless continue.
In any case, scores of students decided to act on their own. "Angry
students jumped over our heads," said Mr. Commerson, the graduate student
who is also a protest leader. "What could we do? Their anger is

On Wednesday morning, with the campus blockaded, student leaders called
off a meeting that had been scheduled with several officials, including
Michael L. Moore, the interim provost, who has been the main
representative of the administration in talks with the protesters. Noah A.
Beckman, president of the Student Body Government, said on Wednesday, "Our
two basic demands remain: Reopen the [presidential] search process, and no
reprisals" against protesters. Wednesday's developments left Gallaudet in
a deep impasse. "There's a huge force being applied to an immovable
object," said Mark S. Weinberg, chair of the university faculty.

Mr. Weinberg, a professor of foreign languages who has been on Gallaudet's
faculty for 28 years and is a hearing person, spent time among the
protesters who were blocking the entrance on Wednesday morning.
"Regardless of her abilities, it's obvious that the institution can't
continue under the leadership of Jane Fernandes," he said. "There's too
much opposition to her." "Something has to give," he added. "We don't know


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