Correction to This Article
Earlier versions of this article in the print and online editions of The Washington Post incorrectly referred to severance packages for college professors. The sentence should have said that severance packages customarily offered to college presidents -- not professors -- typically equal about one year of the former president's salary.

Gallaudet Board Ousts Fernandes

Gallaudet student Christopher Corrigan celebrates the university board's decision to revoke the appointment of the school's incoming president.
Gallaudet student Christopher Corrigan celebrates the university board's decision to revoke the appointment of the school's incoming president. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Susan Kinzie, Nelson Hernandez and David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, October 30, 2006

The governing board of Gallaudet University revoked the appointment of the school's incoming president yesterday, giving in to the demands of students, faculty and others whose protests have kept the nation's premier school for the deaf in turmoil for the past month.

The board, meeting in a special session at a hotel near Dulles International Airport, voted to "terminate" Jane K. Fernandes's position as president-designate and said she would not take over for President I. King Jordan as planned Jan. 1. The board issued a statement late yesterday afternoon saying the decision was made with "much regret and pain."

"We understand the impact of this decision and the important issues that inherently arise when a Board re-examines decisions in the face of an on-going protest," the statement read. "The Board believes that it is in the best interests of the University to terminate Dr. Fernandes from the incoming President's position."

The news set off a wild celebration at Gallaudet's Northeast Washington campus yesterday afternoon, with protest leaders cheering and embracing one another. Their reaction also showed the depth of bitterness some feel toward Fernandes, as protesters shredded a large effigy of her and then set it on fire.

"I'm elated. I'm so excited right now," said LaToya Plummer, a leader among the opposition to Fernandes. "The next step is to focus on how we want to improve the search process."

Said board member Susan Elliott: "Let the healing begin."

The decision brought an end to the protests. Last night, student leaders said they met with some board members who said that protesters arrested during demonstrations will not automatically be expelled but that there will be consequences. The board of trustees issued a statement saying that although they respected the right to free speech, "individuals who violated the law and Gallaudet University's Code of Conduct will be held accountable."

Some board members asked students to make a good-faith effort to clean the campus, open all gates and return to classes. Students said they would do so today.

Gallaudet students, staff and alumni had raised a variety of objections to Fernandes since she was appointed in the spring, saying she was a divisive figure and the process that selected her was unfair.

Fernandes had previously vowed that she would not quit, despite protests that have included takeovers of school buildings and a three-day blockade of the campus that ended with 130 arrests. She issued a statement yesterday, making it clear that the decision to end her appointment was the board's and not hers.

"It is with deep regret that I heard the Board's decision to terminate my contract," Fernandes said. "I love Gallaudet University and I believe I could have made a significant contribution to its future."

Neither her statement nor the university's said what Fernandes, 50, who is no longer provost, would do next, or whether she would receive compensation for the loss of her position. Board member Frank Wu, who is chairman of the compensation committee, said earlier this month that rumors of a $2 million buyout clause were untrue. He said it is customary for college presidents to have severance provisions in their contract, typically for a year at an amount near their salary.

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