Student Rebellion Boils Over At Gallaudet
Thursday, October 12, 2006
Protests over the next president at Gallaudet University intensified yesterday when the football team decided after midnight to join the demonstrations by blocking the campus gates, shutting down the school for the deaf.
As faculty pressure tightened on incoming president Jane K. Fernandes to resign before she takes office in January, she repeated her refusal to do so. Students angrily confronted longtime President I. King Jordan, alumni flocked to the campus and a counter-protest movement grew during a day of upheaval.
"I can't imagine a worse scenario," said David Ward, president of the American Council on Education. "I see nothing but an unhappy ending here."
The day forced a question: Just how much chaos can a school take?
Last night, Jordan issued a statement saying, "This illegal and unlawful behavior must stop," and he warned protesters that they face possible suspension and arrest.
Noah Beckman, president of the student body government, said students will not negotiate. "We will not let the campus go unless Jane Fernandes resigns," he said.
For the past week, the demonstrations that rattled the campus in May when Fernandes was named have flared again. What started with opposition to her and the way she was chosen has grown into a far more complicated and consuming standoff that has paralyzed the school during the midterm exam week. And a growing number of people have become annoyed by the continuous disruption of education.
Yesterday afternoon, faculty leaders tried to hand-deliver a letter to Fernandes and then e-mailed it to her. "Gallaudet University is in crisis," the letter said, and the faculty leaders appealed to her to resign as president designate.
"The whole school is speaking now," said junior Chris Corrigan, a protest leader. Students announced in an e-mail that there had been a coup d'universit é and that they no longer recognized Jordan as president.
Jordan, who has been a civil rights hero to many deaf people since student protests carried him into office nearly 20 years ago, making him the first deaf university president, stood in a mass of emotional protesters demanding answers yesterday morning.
Gallaudet is watched by deaf people worldwide; it's a symbol of strength, accomplishment and possibility, and it carries an emotional weight far greater than most schools. At the same time, it's a world unto itself, with generations of families calling it home. And accusations and misunderstandings quickly reverberate in the close-knit deaf community.
Students and administrators had been in talks late Tuesday to resolve a standoff at a classroom building taken over by students Friday. But football players frustrated by the disruption of classes and by the stalemate decided to try to speed things up, said captain Jason Coleman. He said he was upset about the school's low graduation rates, which have hovered for years around 40 percent, and asked why Fernandes, who has been provost for the past six years, had not been able to change that.