By Daniel de Vise
Monday, October 19, 2009
Gallaudet University trustees appointed T. Alan Hurwitz, leader of a respected rival institute, as president of the nation's premier college for the deaf and hard of hearing Sunday, with none of the tumult surrounding the last presidential search.
Hurwitz, 67, will come to Gallaudet after a 39-year career at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, where he rose from instructor to president of one of eight colleges within the Rochester Institute of Technology. His 5 1/2 -year term starts in January.
Three years ago, student protests brought Gallaudet to a standstill over the selection of Jane K. Fernandes, the school's provost, as successor to popular president I. King Jordan. Students occupied the administration building and barricaded the gates of the school, prompting more than 100 arrests. Trustees rescinded the appointment and installed Robert Davila, who is credited with restoring peace and rebuilding Gallaudet.
After Davila leaves in December, Hurwitz will inherit a college with a freshman class of 300, about 70 more than last year's class, and with a rising rate of student retention. Roughly 90 percent of last year's freshmen returned this semester, the school's highest "persistence" rate in years.
"I see this as the institution of first choice for all students," Hurwitz said. His goals include raising Gallaudet enrollment to 3,000 from the current 1,870.
The four finalists for the presidency are deaf and can sign. Campus leaders said Hurwitz stood out. "It was very clear that he had been a CEO," said Ann Powell, chair of the biology department at Gallaudet, who interviewed Hurwitz as part of a faculty group.
The year-long search was conducted with input from teachers and students, unlike the previous search that threw the campus into chaos.
"The students weren't very involved in that process," said Zach Ennis, 20, of Frederick, Gallaudet's student body president. "It wasn't transparent. This time, it was."
Top Gallaudet administrators "were not heavily involved" in the just-completed search, said Frank Wu, vice chairman of the board of trustees. Davila "was purposefully walled off from all aspects of the selection."
The credibility of the search was important, not just because of past failings but also for the symbolic stature of the Gallaudet leader in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. The announcement was streamed live on the school Internet site and was viewed "around the world," Wu said. Gallaudet, established in 1864 by an act of Congress, is the only liberal arts university for the deaf and hard of hearing.
Hurwitz accepted the appointment Sunday to signed applause in a short ceremony on campus. He thanked community members "for their support and confidence in my selection" and accepted a hug from the Alumni Association president.
Davila, a hero on campus for his role in leading the school back from the brink, gave his blessing to the appointee and told Hurwitz, "The entire community stands ready to work with you and to assist you."