Gallaudet Faculty Joins In

Professors urge president-elect to resign and vote “no confidence” in current president and university’s trustees.
October 17, 2006

Monday was supposed to be the day Gallaudet University got back to business. After student and alumni protesters shut the campus down for several days, and university officials called in police officers late Friday to end the standoff and arrest more than 130 students, the university got off to a fairly normal start yesterday. Although protesters manned the front gate, classes were held as usual, and the football players who had locked the campus down on Wednesday were back in uniform and running drills on Hotchkiss Field. The soccer team hosted Wesley College in a tough match and lost 4-0.

But late in the afternoon, hundreds of students began gathering in front of Fowler Hall, where the faculty was set to meet at 4 p.m. to vote on a series of resolutions regarding unrest on the campus and unhappiness with the administration. The students formed a pair of long lines snaking from the building's entrance and down the sidewalk. Many carried signs reading, “Faculty: Please Help US! YOU  CAN and WILL Make a Difference!”

As faculty showed up for the meeting, some simply lowered their heads and walked between the lines of students; many smiled and waved. One professor shot down the line, slapping students’ hands, and pumping her fists into the air like a football player running onto a field at the beginning of a game.

But three hours laters, the fun and games were over. Of the university’s 221 faculty members who are eligible to vote, 168 showed up -- and they cast their ballots in ways that couldn't help but dishearten administrators and board members. Eighty-five percent (138) of the eligible voters called for President-elect Jane K. Fernandes to resign or be removed, and 131 demanded that the Board of Trustees return to the campus immediately to resolve the current crisis. With 60 opposing, 80 voted no confidence in the current president, I. King Jordan. Finally, with 10 opposing, 106 voted no confidence in the Board of Trustees.

“The Board of Trustees has brought this vote on themselves,” said Chris Heuer, an instructor of applied literacy.

“This sends a strong message to the administration,” said Mark Weinberg, chairman of the Faculty Senate. He rejected any charge that the ruckus at Gallaudet could still be called a “student” protest. “This has never been a student protest,” Weinberg said. “The students have been visible, that is all.”

Numerous other faculty agreed with Weinberg, dismissing administration attempts to portray the opposition to Fernandes as being the province of a bunch of students and a handful of immature faculty members.

Outside, hundreds of students gathered at the campus’s main gate, cheering on speakers and busily typing away on Sidekicks™. Andy Lange, president of the alumni association, stood atop a platform signing to the crowd, which hooted back at him.

"I’ve seen what the faculty have said,” he signed to the crowd. “I don’t know how [the administration] can be so stubborn. The alumni are disgusted with what happened last Friday," referring to the arrest of the students. "We will keep up the pressure on the Board of Trustees.”

“The arrests last Friday were totally uncalled for,” said Bobbie Scoggins, president of the National Association of the Deaf. “The NAD and deaf people around the world look at last Friday with shock and horror.”

LaToya Plummer, a Gallaudet junior, said that she was proud to have been arrested and to have participated in an act of social justice. “But I’m disgusted that President Jordan has let things go so far. And I’m pissed off because we’ve done so much to get their attention and have meaningful dialogue.”

Before the faculty vote, the Board of Trustees issued a statement that reaffirmed its choice in Fernandes. And Jordan sent out a mass e-mail to the campus community stating, “We have considered and discussed your points of view. We just haven’t agreed with you. And we still don’t.”

Faculty said they had no idea how the administration and board will react to the vote, since many of them said they never thought Jordan would have ordered police to arrest students. “I’ve given up predicting,” said Richard Lytle, a professor in the department of education. “I don’t think Jordan saw this vote coming.”

As the Gallaudet controversy continues to simmer, it has attracted significant attention to other educators for the deaf. T. Alan Hurwitz, dean of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, wrote in an e-mail that he has been monitoring the news media and feels saddened for his sister institution. “I believe the controversy is based on a flawed selection process, nothing else," he wrote in an e-mail. "My hope is that the discourse at Gallaudet remains reasoned, civil, non-violent and that resolution is achieved soon."

Robert J. Hoffmeister, director of the program in deaf studies at Boston University, wrote in an e-mail that people outside the deaf community will probably not understand the passions swirling around the choice of Gallaudet’s president. Like many who have been interviewed, he hinted that the board that chose Fernandes had been unduly influenced by Jordan.

“When this is all sorted out, there is a real disconnect between the board and many from the DEAFWORLD,” he wrote. “The board has backed King Jordan, not the wishes of the DEAFWORLD as exemplified by the revolt in the students, but there is dissatisfaction with the choice beyond Gallaudet.”


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