When My Son Was Killed, Jane Fernandes Came Through for My Family, and the School

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Iam heartbroken by the demonstrations that have severely disrupted Gallaudet University this month.

The photograph of students making a mockery of the ceremony honoring President I. King Jordan that appeared in the Oct. 6 Post [above right] was particularly upsetting to my family and me.

We were on the campus for that ceremony and, as it turned out, for the beginning of these protests. We were invited guests at the retirement dinner for I. King and Linda Jordan. We were asked to attend because of the special bond we have with Gallaudet University. On campus we are known as Eric's family.

Exactly six years earlier, on Oct. 6, 2000, members of my family were at Gallaudet for the first time -- to attend a memorial service for our 19-year-old son and brother, Eric Plunkett. Eric was murdered in his dorm room on Sept. 27 or 28, 2000. Among the host of people on campus who reached out to us during that extraordinarily difficult time were the Jordans and Jane K. Fernandes.

I don't believe the radical students behind these demonstrations were on campus back then, when Joseph M. Mesa Jr. was terrorizing the Gallaudet community with his thefts and killings. I do know that six years ago demonstrations like these would not have been tolerated by the student body, because those students were simply trying to stay alive.

Members of that student body were so shell-shocked by Eric's murder that they had a hard time functioning. Then, in February 2001, when Ben Varner was discovered in his dorm room, also killed at 19, the campus went numb with fear and disbelief.

As far as I can tell, a very small group -- maybe 10 percent -- of the current student body seems to despise president-designate Fernandes. These students generally have no clue what it takes to run a university or how a university president is chosen.

Ninety percent of the student body understands that the most important thing in their young lives is education . Ten percent of the students are disrupting the educational process for the 90 percent who get it. Twenty years from now these students will not care one wit who was president of Gallaudet during their time on campus.

As the university's provost, Fernandes stepped up and did a wonderful job of trying to make the campus safe for students and faculty alike when Mesa was carrying out his reign of terror. She showed strong leadership during a time of pure hell. I believe that this is one reason she was considered for the presidency. Fernandes helped our family immeasurably with housing, transportation and meals, even inviting us to her house for a barbecue. Through the murder trial, she sat with us every day in court.

Having been the No. 2 person on campus for six years, Fernandes has the knowledge, experience, backbone and love for the students to be a strong leader of Gallaudet. She showed our family and all parents of Gallaudet students at the time real leadership by walking the dorm halls at night after Eric's murder, trying to assure the students of their safety. Not one student on that campus questioned Fernandes's abilities because she wasn't "deaf enough."

Eric's family firmly endorses Jane Fernandes to be the next president of Gallaudet.

-- Craig Plunkett

Portland, Ore .


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