By Susan Kinzie and Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
The faculty at Gallaudet University gave overwhelming endorsement last night to a proposal calling for Jane K. Fernandes to resign or be removed from her position as incoming president of one of the world's premier colleges for the deaf.
Meeting in Gallaudet's Andrew J. Foster Auditorium surrounded by signs of the protest that has drawn worldwide attention, the teachers adopted the nonbinding resolution by a vote of 138 to 24. Six abstained.
Fernandes, whose title is president designate, was selected by the board of trustees in May and has been the focus of bitter opposition at the 142-year-old school ever since. She is scheduled to take office Jan. 1.
The vote gave new support to the protest over Fernandes and came three days after 133 demonstrators were arrested in one of the key moments of the student-led shutdown that paralyzed the Northeast Washington campus last week.
"Can we make it any more clear?" Jan Hafer, a professor on sabbatical from the school's education department, said after the meeting. "Dr. Fernandes must resign. She does not have the support of the university. It's clear. It's overwhelming."
Fernandes, who had been the school's provost, was appointed to take over from outgoing President I. King Jordan. But the appointment has fueled months of bitter feuding between the school administration and students who have staged raucous demonstrations.
Even as classes resumed yesterday after last week's shutdown, dissension continued to roil the renowned school.
The faculty meeting was said to be one of the largest ever at the school. Of the 221 voting members of the faculty, 168 attended the often emotional meeting.
Several other resolutions were also passed. One, to study the inclusion of students, faculty and alumni on the board of trustees, passed unanimously, according to those in attendance. Another, requesting that there be no reprisals against protesters, passed 133 to 15. A call for the presidential search process to be reopened passed 131 to 23, with two abstentions. And another, asking the board to convene an emergency meeting including students, faculty and others to determine how to manage the school during the interim as the presidential search process is reopened, was also approved 131 to 23, with two abstentions.
The faculty also narrowly passed a vote of no confidence in Jordan and resoundingly asserted a lack of confidence in the board of trustees.
Calling it a sad day for him and the school, Jordan in a statement last night said that Fernandes "will not resign."
He called her an agent of change who is eminently qualified but has alienated some on campus by introducing high academic standards that he called "unpopular but necessary."
By deferring action on four resolutions, Prof. Donna Ryan said in a statement: "The faculty squandered an opportunity" to address Gallaudet's real problems.
Before the meeting, between 150 and 200 students lined the path to the auditorium entrance, bearing signs: "Faculty: please help us. YOU CAN and WILL make a difference!"
Many students wore T-shirts showing their police booking numbers. One read: "#566103. I was dropped by the cops."
The students, who had blocked the school's Sixth Street entrance, were arrested on Jordan's order.
"ARRESTED," another T-shirt said, "for peacefully protecting Gallaudet." And: "Arrested for Gallaudet's future," read a third.
Students waved fingers in the air, calling out to arriving professors. One woman grinned, held up her arms and ran through, slapping hands like a player running onto a court.
Many smiled. A few looked uncomfortable and walked through quietly.
Student leader Chris Corrigan led through the crowd a protester described as being on hunger strike, spurring cries of support.
Someone passed out a flier from the student newspaper, listing results of polling started in April, when 66 percent of faculty and graduate students and 81 percent of undergraduates who responded found Fernandes unacceptable.
Many alumni have arrived on campus for this weekend's homecoming festivities, and some have joined the protest.
Fernandes is "a polarizing figure," said alumnus Raphael St. Johns of Frederick. He said he had supported her but changed his mind after talking with many on campus.
However people feel about her, "whether the issues are valid or invalid, that doesn't matter now," he said. "This school will not move on unless she resigns."
The head of the alumni association has said there's "overwhelming support" for Fernandes to step down. Protesters said dozens of supporters have rallied across the nation and overseas.
A week ago, 200 rallied at the Texas Capitol in Austin. Alumni in Tennessee plan brief tent cities.
Demonstrations began in the spring, when the board announced Fernandes's choice. When the board met this fall, protests resumed amid complaints that academics had suffered in Fernandes's six years as provost, that diversity and sufficient sensitivity to the deaf were lacking and that she had deepened divisions in the school in recent months.
But she retained Jordan's support and that of others in the administration.
"Dr. Jane Fernandes has the leadership qualities to lead this school," Jordan wrote to the campus community Sunday. He said she was selected from a diverse field and could help expand deaf culture to include all the deaf. He said she was well prepared to help students succeed.
Fernandes has said the protests are really about the evolution of deaf culture at a time of change and has said consistently that she would not quit.
Staff writers Sylvia Moreno in Austin and Martin Weil in Washington and special correspondent Theo Emery in Nashville contributed to this report.