May 08, 2006

What's Fueling Gally Students' Anger?

Check out ongoing news coverage of the controversy via Google News.

UPDATES: May 9: Fernandes "received a no-confidence vote from faculty Monday in a dispute that she said comes down to whether she is 'deaf enough' for the job," according to the Chicago Tribune. "The vote, which passed 93-43, is non-binding. The fate of Jane Fernandes rests with the board of trustees, which has said it will not alter its decision."

Since its May 5 announcement, students at Gallaudet University have been protesting the appointment of former provost Jane Fernandes to succeed the popular I. King Jordan, the school's first Deaf president. "But Fernandes is deaf!" commenters say, puzzled -- recalling the uproar 18 years ago when a hearing President was appointed. Those protests -- recalled fondly by Gally students as the DPN, or "Deaf President Now!" protests -- got Jordan the presidency.

The problem now is different. Yes, say students; Fernandes is deaf. But there are lots of other issues.

"This week, protesters have been angry about the way that President-elect Jane K. Fernandes was chosen, about the fact that all three finalists were white, about the selection of a provost not well respected on campus, about the choice of someone they don't believe is a strong leader for the deaf community, someone who is able to speak for them all," reports Susan Kinzie in the May 6 Washington Post.

To grasp what's behind the anger it's important to realize that for most students who attend the university -- and indeed for its alumni and supporters worldwide, Gallaudet "is not just a school. It's home and community and the place the deaf world looks to: the leader speaks for the deaf everywhere," Kinzie reported, "and often speaks for the deaf to the hearing world."

And the students just plain don't like Fernandes. More important, they don't think she's up to the job.

Anthony Mowl, former campus newspaper editor and "the fourth generation in my family to be born deaf, and the third to attend Gallaudet," offers an excellent analysis in the May 5 Inside Higher Education, showing much of the thinking behind the protest:

To best understand what’s happening now, you need to know that the Gallaudet I grew up with is not the Gallaudet I am graduating from. Whereas going to Gallaudet and demanding a deaf president were once part of simply affirming our pride in ourselves and our right to basic human needs, students want more today. . .

[Outgoing president I. King] Jordan isn’t just a college president, but is a spokesman for deaf men and women around the world. The board that needed to be pressured into promoting him never assigned him that role, but it came about naturally because of the Deaf President Now movement. . . .

And that’s why we need a president with all the right qualities, not just someone who shares our deafness. . .

We need someone who — like Jordan — knows everyone on campus and their families, and who can be eloquent with the media, politicians, and philanthropists. Someone who can navigate the tough issues we face – of how to attract students and define our institution’s mission in an ever changing world. . . . (Read entire article.)

The blog at seems by far the best pulse on the ongoing action and anger. Elisa posts updates almost constantly, with photos, video clips sent in by Deafies far away with supportive messages, copies of letters back and forth to the Board of Trustees. By Day 5 of the protest, the issue's now spread out to the usual new targets of campus security and the administration's handling of the protest itself, but at its core is an issue about Fernandes.

Students from places like the Rochester Technical Institute for the Deaf -- and Gally alumni -- are now starting to converge on the campus. "Unity for Gallaudet" t-shirts are being printed up. . . .

Follow the action and updates at Elisa's blog: -- and also check out the RidorLive and DeafDC blogs, as well as the links at our earlier coverage.

Posted on May 08, 2006