Gallaudet Trustees Split on Fernandes

A different type of sign language outside Gallaudet University, where foes of Jane K. Fernandes taking office as president express their opinion.
A different type of sign language outside Gallaudet University, where foes of Jane K. Fernandes taking office as president express their opinion. (By Susan Biddle -- The Washington Post)

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By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 19, 2006

Gallaudet University trustees have split in their support for incoming president Jane K. Fernandes, a shift from their united front endorsing her as the best person to lead the school for the deaf.

Last night, Fernandes said some members of the board of trustees have asked her to resign amid growing pressure from a coalition of students, faculty, alumni and staff who oppose her.

Of the 20 trustees, three of whom are members of Congress, perhaps as many as seven do not support Fernandes becoming president, according to three sources close to the board who spoke on condition of anonymity because board consultations are private. Fernandes, who had been provost, is to take office in January.

Fernandes said she has begun contacting trustees individually to shore up, and gauge, support.

"I honestly don't see how this is going to be resolved," she said last night. "I don't see a clear way for this to be resolved. I'm going to go home and think hard about that, talk with my husband and family. Almost any option I think of is not wholly a good one.

" . . . I'm not really thinking of resigning, no. But I'm trying to think of how . . . to work from now until January to be in a position to be where I can be effective."

Some trustees have called for an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis that has gripped the school in Northeast Washington, and some have threatened to resign.

Critics give varied reasons for opposing Fernandes, including long-simmering frustrations with the board's presidential search. To some, she is viewed as the wrong leader for Gallaudet, the academic and cultural heart of the world's deaf community, in part because she was born deaf but did not learn sign language until she was an adult.

In a frank e-mail to trustees, a copy of which was provided to The Washington Post yesterday by someone other than Fernandes, the president-designate explained why she is determined to stay. She asked trustees not to resign or call for her to step aside.

"What we are dealing with on campus is anarchy and terrorism," she wrote.

If she were asked to leave or be fired, the e-mail also said, "the University and in particular the Board of Trustees will undergo intense scrutiny from Congress. I venture to guess Congress will ask why you did not perform your fiduciary duties to the University. And you will have to explain."

The majority of the private university's funding comes from the federal government.


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