Washington: Gallaudet U. Trustees Terminate Appointment of President-Designate

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Mon Oct 30 14:08:21 UTC 2006

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gallaudet U. Trustees Terminate Appointment of President-Designate

Following a month of intense protests at Gallaudet University, the
institution's Board of Trustees voted on Sunday to rescind its
controversial appointment of the university's president-designate, Jane K.
Fernandes. The board reached its decision following a heavily guarded,
daylong meeting at a hotel near Dulles International Airport, outside
Washington. The announcement that Ms. Fernandes would not become the
university's president as planned on January 1 was accompanied by "much
regret and pain," according to a statement released by Gallaudet. "We
understand,"  the statement continued, "the impact of this decision and
the important issues that inherently arise when a board re-examines
decisions in the face of an ongoing protest."

The board's appointment of Ms. Fernandes, in May, to replace I. King
Jordan as president touched off protests among students and faculty
members almost immediately. Opponents say Ms. Fernandes is not a strong
enough advocate for deaf people and makes decisions without adequately
consulting others. In recent weeks, student protesters had blocked some of
the campus gates at Gallaudet, the nation's only university for the deaf.
After news of the board's decision reached students on Gallaudet's campus
on Sunday evening, hugs and cheers abounded, and celebratory beer flowed
freely as students, alumni, and national leaders for deaf people
celebrated the board's decision.

Ryan K. Commerson, a graduate student in cultural studies and a protest
leader, said, "I was not expecting this to happen. My feeling is one of
shock. ... This is it. We succeeded. Wow." Bobbie Beth Scoggins, president
of the National Association of the Deaf, said she was "elated that we can
begin a healing process." "We have a long way to go, but the Board of
Trustees has started us in the right direction," Ms. Scoggins said.
Following the board's announcement, some trustees traveled to Gallaudet to
attend a closed-door meeting with leaders of the student protests. In
addition to seeking Ms. Fernandes's resignation, the students had asked
for protection from reprisals for their actions during the protests.

As that meeting continued Sunday night, Steve Hilbock, a Gallaudet alumnus
and a spokesman for the protesters, gave periodic updates on its progress
to reporters who were gathered outside. "The board is in there; they are
wonderful people," Mr. Hilbock said.  "They truly have concerns for the
people who are here. We want everyone to work closely with the board. They
are working through the night right now with student protesters, to build
confidence and restore trust." According to Mr. Hilbock, the board had
tentatively agreed that the university would not expel any of the
protesters, and that there would be only "soft reprisals" -- such as
community service and cleaning up the campus -- for student protesters.
"We made an important decision today to improve the situation," said
Harvey Goodstein, a trustee. "We gave careful consideration to many
scenarios and think we made the best decision possible. Everyone has been
so hurt. There's been a loss of trust. It takes time to heal that, and I'm
looking forward to working with the whole Gallaudet community as we go

In a written statement, Ms. Fernandes, the university's former provost,
said that she "could have made a significant contribution" to Gallaudet's
future, and that she hoped the community could "heal the wounds that have
been created." She was not available for further comment on Sunday.


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