As Campus Protests Continue, Officials Postpone Homecoming

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Gallaudet University officials yesterday postponed this weekend's homecoming festivities because of an ongoing clash with hundreds of protesters who have erected a tent city on campus. The protesters, in turn, vowed to stage a series of "alternate" events.

Protesters control all but one entrance to Gallaudet, the nation's premier university for the deaf. In a posting on the university Web site yesterday afternoon, Gallaudet President I. King Jordan said their refusal to "open all of the gates" left administrators no choice but to postpone homecoming.

The decision to sideline the school's signature fall event came as alumni and parents were already arriving in town, some for the game, others to join in a campus protest over the appointment of president designate Jane K. Fernandes. The protest has been gaining currency in the broader deaf community.

"To cancel that is just a kick in the face," said Tami Hossler, mother of a 21-year-old Gallaudet student, who said she and other parents have secured a meeting with Jordan for tomorrow. "How do you get thousands of people not to hold homecoming? How do you stop that many people?"

But Prof. Janet Pray, who supports Fernandes, said she was surprised that homecoming wasn't canceled earlier. With just one gate open and people coming in through a gantlet of protests, it's difficult for emergency vehicles to get through, she said. The addition of homecoming throngs could create "a very unsafe situation."

Students, alumni and employees set up on campus this month to protest the appointment of Fernandes, the former provost, as president. Her critics say Fernandes is a divisive administrator, insensitive to the community the university serves. A three-day shutdown of the campus ended Friday with the arrest of 133 protesters, an episode that appeared to galvanize the opposition. Since then, the faculty and leaders of the National Association of the Deaf have joined in calling for the university's board to step in.

Fernandes has repeatedly said she will not resign. Gallaudet administrators and trustees have defended her selection and pressed protesters to yield control of the campus gates.

Protesters resisted a fresh attempt by university employees to open a blocked entrance before dawn yesterday. One entrance, off Florida Avenue at the southwest corner of campus, is open, and administrators had demanded Monday night that protesters clear two additional gates by 6 a.m.

Physical plant employees approached the Brentwood gate, on the northwest side of campus, shortly before 6 a.m., according to LaToya Plummer, 25, a Gallaudet junior who is among the protest leaders. Plummer said she encouraged the protesters to form a human chain and deny the workers access to campus. They retreated. She called the ultimatum an "empty threat."

Administrators said they could still assert their right to open the blocked entrances at any time. Protesters, for their part, said they had been assured by both District and campus police that there would be no further arrests. A D.C. police spokesman, Officer Junis Fletcher, said access to the private campus was "not an issue" for D.C. police.

University spokesman Mercy Coogan cited a growing conviction among administrators that "something is going to have to give" at the entrances.

Gallaudet faculty gave overwhelming endorsement Monday night to a proposal calling for Fernandes to resign or be removed. Last night, about 30 faculty members marched from the student union building to Jordan's on-campus home, in a further show of solidarity. Jeff Lewis, a professor in the counseling department, said some faculty members had discussed a walkout.

At a news conference yesterday, representative faculty, staff, alumni, parents and students urged Gallaudet alumni in the Washington area to come to campus Saturday to show support.

Noah Beckman, president of the Gallaudet student government, said he thought it unlikely that any Spirit Week activities could be salvaged, nor could the customary pre-homecoming bash Friday. Other events, such as an off-campus homecoming ball scheduled for Saturday, might go on as planned.

Staff writer Susan Kinzie contributed to this report.

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