Just when things seemed to be returning to some semblance of normality at Gallaudet University, a newspaper report questioning the quality of students and of instruction has the embattled institution on its heels again.
A Washington Post investigative report Thursday detailed e-mails and faculty reports sent to the Board of Trustees suggesting that Gallaudet is admitting students with poor academic skills. The Post article also described incidents in which the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Science and Technologies, Karen Kimmel, sent e-mails to professors asking them to pass students who had failed a remedial math test. Professors later changed the grades, the Post reported.
Gallaudet University administration officials did not respond to numerous requests for comment. But President I. King Jordan released a statement late Thursday in response to the article, which noted the university's competing missions but defended the university's practices. "Gallaudet remains steadfast in support of our faculty to ensure longstanding academic integrity. Above all else, Gallaudet is dedicated to providing quality education for deaf and hard of hearing students."
Most professors interviewed said they believed the Post article accurately captured the image of an institution with its standards in decline.
“My mouth dropped,” said one faculty member who did not wish to be identified. “I had no idea this was coming,” she said of the article. “It was a surprise that this appeared in the paper, but there has been concern about student achievement at enrollment and the quality of our education.”
The faculty member cited another incident as a sign that Gallaudet has loose admission standards. The university recently admitted two students who came from the same high school. One student was the class valedictorian, while the other was enrolled in a program for deaf students with learning disabilities. “This is a university, not a community college,” she said.
Lois Bragg, vice chair of the University Faculty and professor of English, said in an e-mail that she has been told that Gallaudet overbuilt in the “rubella bulge,” when many children were born deaf because their mothers had rubella. This cohort of students hit the campus in the 1970s, this line of thinking goes, and the administration does not have the will to downsize.
“Matters have gone from bad to worse in my 16 years here as admission standards go south and the staff becomes bloated with helpers of all descriptions,” Bragg said. “I can tell you positively that in the two and a half years of my service, the board has been not only unreceptive to faculty concerns on these matters but actually dismissive.”
Another professor said that the article in the Post seemed to overreach and that professors were giving reporters any information to try and discredit Jane K. Fernandes, who was recently removed as president-elect after a long protest by the campus community. The professor did not wish to be identified as he wants the controversy to die down so that Gallaudet can move forward.
“Students are frustrated that their English is not good like a hearing person’s,” he said. Continuous access to English is hard and for many deaf people, American Sign Language, which is quite different from English, is their first language.
“With the Fernandes episode, some saw this as a chance to bring out other things,” said the chair of the faculty senate, Mark Weinberg. Weinberg said that poor academic skills are indeed a problem on the campus. Many deaf students have excellent English skills, he said, but they are usually not coming to Gallaudet. “We are focusing on those with developmental needs, and we must raise the bar,” he said.
Bragg added that the campus has dedicated faculty and many fine students. “The university, however, and its budget is increasingly captive to this tremendous bulk of students who are not prepared to handle, and cannot be prepared to handle, college-level work,” she said.