New Gallaudet President

Jane K. Fernandes
About 200 students from Gallaudet University turned out to protest the newly named president of the school, Jane K. Fernandes, pictured, who listened and spoke to the students. (Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
Jane K. Fernandes
Gallaudet University Provost, Named President
Wednesday, May 3, 2006; 2:00 PM

Jane K. Fernandes , Gallaudet University provost who was named Monday to succeed I. King Jordan as president, was online Wednesday, May 3, at 2 p.m. ET to field questions and comments about her recent appointment.

From The Post:

Ideas Exchanged as Protest Continues at Gallaudet (Post, May 3)

New Gallaudet President Met With Protest (Post, May 2)

A transcript follows.


Jane K. Fernandes: Good afternoon! I was honored that the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees named me as the 9th university president. I am happy to respond to your questions.

_______________________ Jane Fernandes, welcome to We're glad to have you with us today.

Students there at the university have let their feelings be known about your selection as the new president. It's been reported that some do not like the way the selection search was performed and there has been criticism about your leadership style. You met with the students yesterday.

How are you dealing with these charges and how do you expect the differences and opinions about your leadership to be resolved?

Jane K. Fernandes: AS far as the selection process, I believe that it was done fairly and in an open manner based on best practices for presidential searches. I have to evidence to suggest that the process was anything but fair.

Communication is a key way that I plan to resolve concerns about my leadership style. I will set up regular conversations with students, faculty, teachers and staff so that we can begin to move ahead with the important issues facing the University today. During these conversations, people will have a new opportunity to get to know me and for us to build strong working relationships.


Dana Point, Calif.: Is it your intention to make Gallaudet University accessible to all modes of education for the deaf (i.e., ASL, SEE, Cued, Oralism, Rochester, Pidgin, etc.)? Lately, it has become ASL-only and I fear this may turn off some prospective students as CSUN and RIT have reported increased enrollment as a result.

Jane K. Fernandes: At Gallaudet, we plan to welcome all kinds of deaf students to campus. We will continue to uphold our bilingual ASL-English philosophy. In the future, as there will be many ways to be deaf, we will strengthen programs designed to teach Sign Language to deaf or hard of hearing students who don't know it and increase the level of support we provide to them.


Alexandria, Va.: What qualities do you bring to the role of president of Gallaudet University that are different from I. King Jordan?

Jane K. Fernandes: I have grown up deaf with a deaf mother and a deaf brother. As such, I understand living life as a deaf person from birth.

As a leader, I "lead from behind," and identify talents that people have and nurture it. I also have a very participatory decision-making style.

I am also very comfortable bringing together various groups to discuss and resolve issues. As Gallaudet moves toward our goal of becoming an inclusive deaf university, this quality will serve me well.


Silver Spring, Md.: How do you feel towards the students' reactions? Do you think this would have happened if any of the presidential candidates were selected?

Jane K. Fernandes: I did anticipate the reaction from some students who made it clear during the process that they would protest if I were selected. These protestors do not necessarily represent all students on campus.

I believe that some groups would have protested had either of the other two finalists been selected.


Manassas, Va.: Dr. Fernandes, I believe you have all the needed qualifications and experience needed for this job. The students are complaining about your lack of social and political skills. Do you these are necessary for your job? If yes, what steps will you take to develop these skills?

Jane K. Fernandes: I believe the students perception is based on their interaction with me as provost, a role that has necessitated my making some hard decisions with which some disagreed.

I believe I already have the social and political skills needed to be an effective president for Gallaudet. I have worked with state legislatures advocating successfully for deaf education in previous positions. I have successfully interacted with senior staff in Congress, members of Congress and donors on behalf of Gallaudet University.

I feel strongly that some of the information students are using about me for the purposes of protest is not accurate and is often false. I am working diligently to correct their perceptions and provide them with the correct information.


Queens, N.Y.: Jane,

Good afternoon. Thank you for participating in this discussion forum. My question for you is, what has your experience been like for the last three days as students, staff and faculty alike proclaim that you were not their first choice for president? What has been running through your head as you watch the protests occurring in front of you? This is not a question about what you will do better for Gallaudet or how you strive to be better. This is a question about your thoughts and feelings with everything going on now. Thank you.

Jane K. Fernandes: I have never been through anything like this in my life. It has been a very, very difficult experience but I am strong and my commitment to making Gallaudet an inclusive deaf university of academic excellence is pulling me through this ordeal.


Washington, D.C.: What sort of vision do you have for Gallaudet over the next five years? What would you consider to be the most important change you can make in that period?

Jane K. Fernandes: The most important contribution I can make to Gallaudet University in the next five years is to enable the community to address racism and audism on campus. As we move forward with open, honest and difficult conversations, we will begin to experience the benefits that diversity brings to a community, especially a university. One of the benefits will be seen in increasing rates of recruitment, retention and graduation of students.


Palo Alto, Calif.: First, thanks for joining a forum like this, your presence is appreciated.

Second, what do you see as the most important challenges facing Gallaudet in particular and higher ed more broadly in the next few years?

Jane K. Fernandes: The most important challenge facing Gallaudet as well as many institutions of higher education is the increasingly diverse student bodies we are expected to educate. Attracting diverse students is one of our primary goals. But equally important, we have to create an environment where all students see themselves reflected in the curriculum, in the faculty and staff who work with them, and in the co-curricular programs we offer them. Doing so will help us achieve our ultimate goal of equitable outcomes (graduation rates) for all students.


Washington, D.C.: Congratulations on becoming president, and for holding your own in what must be an exceedingly tough position for you right now.

My question to you: It is easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone involved ultimately is a human being. Given that so many people feel that they do not really "know" you, what would you do to show your human side to them and give people the opportunity to know you more as a person, not only as president of Gallaudet?

Jane K. Fernandes: Yes, it has been an extraordinarily difficult time. I am making myself available to meet and talk informally with students in many different venues. I find that when students actually talk with me, and get to know me, their concerns are alleviated.


Washington, D.C.: In your opinion, what is it that the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees sees and supports about you, that the students, faculty, alumni, and some administration do not see nor support?

Jane K. Fernandes: The Board of Trustees had a wealth of information about me and the other two finalists. They had far more than any of the constituent groups on campus. The Board of Trustees used that information as well as my interview with the search committee, the feedback from my two-day campus visit, and my interview with the Board of Trustees members themselves to make their final decision.


San Francisco, Calif.: Dr. Fernandes,

From what I have seen, students are complaining that you do not interact enough with them. Are you willing to attend Gallaudet University events such as homecoming, sport events, educational events such as debates and some other events. Are you also open to the idea of visiting classrooms to make your presence felt on campus?


Jane K. Fernandes: As provost, I already include student perspectives in almost every decision made in Academic Affairs. The amount of student involvement in university decisions under my administration is unprecedented. I will continue this as president and I will commit to creating many informal ways of interacting with students.


Washington, D.C.: Since you are the new president, who will be the new provost? If you do not know who will be the new provost, then what do you expect from the new provost? I am more concerned about who will be the new provost since they are responsible for our academic.

Jane K. Fernandes: I do not know who will be the next provost. Clearly, the decision about the next provost is important to faculty, teachers, staff and students.


Washington, D.C.: Did I. King Jordan interview you and the other candidates?

Jane K. Fernandes: Yes, King Jordan interviewed all three finalists.


Washington, D.C.: As a Gallaudet staff member, I am dismayed by what is going on here. I think the process has been clearly explained from the beginning, and I know that the Selection Committee was made as diverse as humanly possible. I support their decision, and support Dr. Fernandes as president. That said, why were Board of Trustee members permitted to be on the Presidential Selection Committee? Was this a conflict of interest?

Jane K. Fernandes: Thank you for your support. It means a great deal to me.

In terms of best practices for presidential searches, my understanding is that Board members routinely have key roles.

The Gallaudet presidential search committee was noted by the search firm to have an unprecedented level of involvement from members of the campus community -- a reflection of the important the University places on community input.


Washington, D.C.: Dr. Fernandes ... a point of clarification. In your first response this afternoon you said, "I have to evidence to suggest that the process was anything but fair." From all that I have read about the search process, I'm wondering if you mean "I have no evidence to suggest that the process was anything but fair."

Jane K. Fernandes: Yes, I mean I have NO evidence to suggest that the process was anything but fair. Thank you!


New Braunfels, Tex.: What is the single most important factor about Dr. Fernandes that makes her the right person for the job?

Jane K. Fernandes: I am proven higher education leader and I have strong vision for the future of Gallaudet as an inclusive deaf university of academic excellence. Our becoming inclusive is essential for the future strength of the University.


Frederick, Md.: Where is your standing for international deaf students? Are you support them to have education at Gallaudet? Have you had formally introduce yourself with them?

Jane K. Fernandes: I strongly support our strategic goal of becoming an international deaf cultural center and strengthening our ties with international organizations.

I am probably the single strongest supporter of efforts to assist international students with funding that enables them to attend Gallaudet and I am proud of the many wonderful international students that I have had a part in bringing to Gallaudet.

I envision one day we will offer a Masters in International Deaf Studies and we will offer foreign sign languages for university credit.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Jane. You were an administrator with the ASL program at Northeastern University several years ago. What plans do you have in bringing attention to the importance of communicating in American Sign Language (ASL) in educating the deaf? How about implementing ASL classes as a credit requirement for each student enrolled at Gallaudet?

Jane K. Fernandes: Hi, Northeastern University!

I am strong supporter of recognizing ASL as the language of the deaf community and I will continue to advocate respect for the role of ASL and visual communication as the center of deaf education.

On campus, we are renewing our commitment to being a bilingual community where both ASL and English are equally valued. This discussion may very well lead to offering ASL courses but we will not know that until we have involved the community in discussions.


Washington, D.C.: There's an online alumni petition asking that the search process for the new president of Gallaudet University be re-opened, and signatures now approach 1,500 from around the world. Clearly there is much unrest. Will you ever consider resigning for the sake of unification at Gallaudet University in protest of the flawed search process?

Jane K. Fernandes: No, I will not resign from my position as the ninth president of Gallaudet University. This is not a popularity contest or the election of a mayor for the deaf world. It is the selection of the president of an important institution of higher education in America.

Again, I have no evidence that the process was flawed. Every available fact I have supports that the process was fair and open.


College Park, Md.: A poll of the faculty showed that only 13 percent were receptive to your selection, and that 87 percent found your selection to be "unacceptable." How do you plan to deal with faculty perceptions?

Jane K. Fernandes: I don't know the total number of faculty who voted in that poll. But clearly gaining faculty support will be important as we move ahead with the important work before us.


Washington, D.C.: There has been some criticism of you because you were the only white candidate and that you were chosen. Fernandes is a Latino name so I'm curious about the validity of this criticism. Or is this your married name? Please elaborate on this issue if you may.

Jane K. Fernandes: All three of the finalists were white. My full name is Jane Kelleher Fernandes. Fernandes is my husband's last name. His family is Portuguese from Hawaii. I am from an Irish family.


Washington, D.C.: Hello Dr. Fernandes, do you support the inclusion of hearing students at Gallaudet?

Jane K. Fernandes: I support the inclusion of hearing undergraduate students up to five percent of the entering class, the number we have now. Hearing undergraduate students, known as HUGs, must be fluent in ASL at the time of their enrollment. We have some hearing undergraduate students in the Bachelor of Arts in Interpretation. Our graduate population is currently about half hearing and half deaf or hard hearing. Hearing students provide us with diversity at the university and they enrich the educational experience for all of us.


Jane K. Fernandes: Thank you! I have enjoyed the opportunity to talk with you and I wish I could have answered more questions. I look forward to serving Gallaudet University as its 9th president and its first female deaf president.


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