Giving Gallaudet a Bad Name

Friday, October 13, 2006

UNHAPPY WITH Gallaudet University's choice of a new president, students continued their blockade of the campus yesterday. Hundreds of students were being denied their college education. Elementary and high school students also were locked out of their Kendall Green schools, which share the campus. Every lost day of school for them is significant.

Gallaudet officials, to their credit, sought a peaceful end to the stalemate. But to every overture, students changed their demands, reneged on deals and, in the end, essentially dared the university to arrest them. This has been the pattern since demonstrations began in the spring. The ultimatums they threw down -- a new presidential search and the withdrawal of Jane K. Fernandes's appointment -- were the only two conditions that university officials said, with justification, were not negotiable. Officials were amenable to an outside review of the search process, real student involvement in the search for a new provost and a student role on the board of trustees, but students weren't interested. While it would have been nice if Ms. Fernandes's selection had been more popular, it really is not the students' place to name the president. That holds all the more true since they were unable to articulate reasonable grounds for their opposition. By any objective measure, Ms. Fernandes is well qualified to lead the world's only institution of higher learning for the deaf.

Equally distressing has been the behavior of some faculty members who have incited student dissent and abetted the shutdown of the school, when they should have been acting like grown-ups and telling students about the real world of consequences. The blockade confronted university administrators with a terrible dilemma. The protesters probably know the pain that would be caused by an image of students at the world's most famous school for the deaf being hauled off in handcuffs -- a particular affront to those who communicate with their hands. So official restraint was right and understandable. Opposition to the tactics of the protesters is emerging, and that could help in efforts to reclaim the campus.

But the unlawful protest has gone on for too long, and it's time for learning to resume.

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