Gallaudet University Protests
Monday, October 23, 2006; 2:00 PM
Jane K. Fernandes said Thursday that she is determined to be the next president of Gallaudet University, even as some board members continued to urge her to resign and more alumni arrived to join protests at the school for the deaf.
Fernandes was online Monday, Oct. 23, art 2 p.m. ET to discuss the reasons why she is not withdrawing her name despite growing opposition to her appointment as president.
A transcript follows.
Jane K. Fernandes: Statement to Open Online Discussion
I am very glad to be here today and I'd like to take this opportunity to move beyond the debate about my being selected as the next president by the Board of Trustees and share my vision for my presidency at Gallaudet and how it will help the university address the challenges we face.
Gallaudet University is at a crossroads where it is essential that we continue to value and promote Deaf culture, deaf history, and American Sign Language and at the same time, recognize the dramatic impact of cochlear implants and other technical and scientific advances on the deaf community. I believe strongly that Gallaudet must be the beacon of hope for the increasingly diverse population of deaf and hard of hearing people in the 21st century. For instance, we already know that about 47 percent of the U.S. school-age population of deaf and hard of hearing students are students of color.
The diversity plan that the Gallaudet community is now discussing will guide the process of making Gallaudet an increasingly inclusive deaf university where everyone is included, valued and respected. The strategic plan, New Directions for Academic Affairs, provides the framework for making an already great university even greater by increasing academic standards, ensuring that students are better prepared for admission through increased collaboration with schools from which they come. As president I will also move forward with Gallaudet's new vision for a liberal education that will better prepare our graduates with knowledge and skills essential for success in an increasingly competitive world.
Building upon Dr. Jordan's outstanding legacy, I will lead Gallaudet into a successful future, working as, I always have, with an outstanding faculty, staff, and students.
Fresno, Calif.: Dear Dr. Fernandes,
One of the roles of a college president is to assure that the actions of the institution reflects the mission. Would you please talk about Gallaudet's mission and how the protest does or does not support that mission. Thank you.
Jane K. Fernandes: The mission of Gallaudet University is to serve as a comprehensive, multipurpose institution of higher education for deaf and hard of hearing citizens of the United States and the world.
With 47 percent of deaf and hard of hearing children coming from diverse racial backgrounds and 91percent of deaf and hard of hearing children and youth attending public schools, Gallaudet must reach out and include each and every one of them. The University must make it clear that we welcome, value and include all kinds of deaf students while remaining true to the principles of American Sign Language and Deaf Culture upon which the University was founded.
New York, N.Y.: President-elect Fernandes, thank you in advance for taking my comment.
Although I am a hearing individual, I strongly believe that you are the right person to lead Gallaudet into the 21st century. As you noted in your op-ed piece from last week, the deaf community, like other communities, is not monolithic. As an African-American, I see how often my own community ostracizes those who are not deemed "black enough." With increased medical and scientific advancements, there will be even more heterogeneity among individuals who are hearing impaired. In my humble opinion, I think a lot of the protests are based in fear, fear of what will happen to deaf culture with the advent of these innovations. Hopefully, Gallaudet can become a setting that is at the forefront of transition in your community.
I hope you make it through this challenge. However, if you don't, I am sure that history will be on your side. Good luck and God speed!
Jane K. Fernandes: There are so many external pressures exerted on the deaf community including cochlear implants, more powerful hearing aids, genetic research and the shift in school attendance from schools for the deaf to public schools where today 91 percent of deaf and hard of hearing children and youth are enrolled. I believe the community is responding to these pressures on a deep seated level.
My African American friends seem to understand the pressures the deaf community is feeling. One of them shared this spiritual with me:
We'll stand the storm, it won't be long, we'll anchor by and by
We'll stand the storm, it won't be long, we'll anchor by and by
It reminds us that life is full of storms of different intensity and the struggle is not to avoid them, but stand through them.
By standing through this storm, the whole Gallaudet University community will emerge as a stronger institution of higher education and will better serve the needs of our students.
Rochester, N.Y.: The students at National Technical Institute for the Deaf in Rochester are holding a "tent city" support rally for Gallaudet students today. What do you think of this type of off-campus support of the Gallaudet students? Do you think it is appropriate?
Jane K. Fernandes: I am heartened to see deaf students becoming activists and speaking out for what they believe in. I fully support their right to do that.
The selection of the Gallaudet University president is made by the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees. Students at Gallaudet and at NTID do not and cannot make such a decision.
I would hope we can channel the strong feelings and deep concern for deaf people and deaf education into a powerful national force that will result in advancements for deaf people everywhere.
Seattle, Wash.: I heard the students got letters from the judicial office about their arrests on Friday 13th for blocking the gates. Will they be evicted? If so, why?
Jane K. Fernandes: Each case will be reviewed by the University Judicial Affairs Board. A student may accept responsibility for whatever the charge is and be assigned consequences. If the student does not accept responsibility, he or she will have a hearing with the Judicial Affairs Board. Consequences fall along a continuum ranging from things like community service, writing a research paper or attending workshops to more serious actions like suspension or expulsion. The consequences will be assigned in accordance with the process outlined in the Student Code of Conduct.
Alameda, Calif.: How do you expect to bring together the various factions on campus, especially when many of the stakeholders have declared their unwillingness to accept you as their president? Please delineate your plan or give us some idea as to where you are headed.
Jane K. Fernandes: I have been working with experts on conflict transformation and came across this quotation which is significant in light of the situation Gallaudet is facing:
"Unity is not two people clinging together because they both fear they are about to be annihilated. Nor, for that matter, is unity two people standing together and pretending there are no differences between them ... unity is respecting difference, honoring difference, valuing difference, learning from difference, but understanding that difference is not destiny ... And that if there are 10 things that divide us, there are 100 by which we are drawn together, if there are 100 points of difference, there are 1,000 of common cause." Leonard Pitts, Jr., columnist for the Miami Herald
I hope to involve neutral mediators to work with the campus community -- faculty, staff, students and alumni -- to identity their most pressing issues and find the common threads we can use to create the healing we so desperately need.
Gallaudet City: President Designate Fernandes:
I am one of few Gallaudet folks who is sorry about what's happening. We haven't been fair to you; we haven't given you the chance to show what you are capable of. I think everyone from all sides needs to grow up.
I am peeved by the way the administration has handled the unrest. It's been anemic at best, and I am wondering if you have short- and long-term plans for resolution.
Jane K. Fernandes: I am worried about the cost to the university of a damaging conflict. I support constructive alternatives to barricades and angry confrontations. I support mediation as an avenue for short-term resolution. For the long-term, I am committed to pushing for real reform at Gallaudet (e.g., increasing levels of American Sign Language fluency among faculty and staff, expectation that faculty and staff are to sign all the time on campus and revisiting the composition of the Board of Trustees to more effectively represent the Gallaudet community).
College Park, Md.: Do you fear that if/when you do become president, that you will NOT have the support of the students, faculty and perhaps more importantly, the alumni that financially support (aside from Congress) the university?
Jane K. Fernandes: Leadership doesn't come from winning popularity contests. It derives from setting a course that will help the institution thrive. Leadership sometimes means making very tough decisions in the best interests of the university and accepting personal consequences. Leadership calls for the courage to steer through the storms of misunderstanding and misrepresentation for the good of the ship.
Leadership puts the good of the whole above ego, above the best interests of the individual. That's the kind of leader that I am and that's why I believe I can and will be an effective leader of Gallaudet.
I share with the protesters a love and reverence for ASL and Deaf Culture. It saddens me that they don't seem to acknowledge that. Under my leadership, Gallaudet will grow as a center of scholarship and excellence for all deaf, hard of hearing and deaf-blind people of every color and background to learn and make themselves whole.
My honorable hearing father, my strong deaf mother, the catalyst of education, and the warm embrace of the Iowa deaf community all combined to help me become a whole person and a leader. Becoming whole means accepting and maximizing all aspects of my identity. I want to make sure that Gallaudet affords the same opportunity to all our students. That's what I see as an inclusive deaf university and I believe this is a vision that many share with me.
I am confident that the protesters will come to understand and agree with my vision and leadership.
Des Plaines, Ill.: Dr. Fernandes,
I have a child who is a freshman this year at Gallaudet. First I don't understand why the staff and SBG did not work on this issue over the summer so this would not have happened. I am now reading that the SBG said they were going to be doing this. I feel Gallaudet should have been working to resolve this all along. Also as a parent whose child had worked so hard to get to go to college and then to have his happen, it's very upsetting. These kids are getting a bad deal, the tuition should be refunded. When is this madness going to end? So my child can have the normal freshmen year at college?
Jane K. Fernandes: I have been meeting and talking with students, faculty and staff since last May in an effort to listen to their concerns. We will continue to reach out to them and to listen carefully to their issues as we have been doing since last May.
We have been negotiating tirelessly with the dissenters for the past ten days, often staying awake all day and all night. At one point there were as many as 24 demands which have now been reduced to two, which are non-negotiable. It is difficult to negotiate with people who are intransigent in their demands. Where is the room to negotiate? What is the fall back position?
A couple of times, we thought we had reached an agreement that was signed by student leaders as well as administrators only to have the agreements reneged soon afterward.
Gallaudet University's pain at this time is shared by us all. No one individual or group has a monopoly on it. We must all stop and begin to talk together.
The University must continue with its fundamental mission. At this time, classes on campus are being held and I sincerely hope your son is receiving the education that he deserves. While the dissenters have a right to their opinion, they do not have a right to impose it on others thereby denying them the education they deserve and are paying for.
Washington, DC: I noticed in today's article that some of the teachers at the Clerc Center are upset about the decision to do away with tenure at the Clerc Center that was made after you became vice president of the. Please clarify the issues related to tenure for teachers that led to it being abolished.
Jane K. Fernandes: As you may know, most public and private elementary and secondary school teachers do not hold tenure in the same sense that University faculty do. Teachers in elementary and secondary schools typically have a reasonable expectation of continued employment and are afforded due process involving any disputes concerning employment. When I arrived at the Clerc Center on the Gallaudet campus in 1995, I worked with teachers, students, staff, parents and Board of Trustees members to change the employment of teachers in our elementary and secondary schools from being tenured to the University to holding a continuous appointment at the elementary and secondary schools.
Anonymous: Ms Fernandes are you lobbying for the cochlear implants? Last week you said something to the effect that you wanted to take Gallaudet into the future for those who had implants and mainstreamed in the public schools.
Jane K. Fernandes: Too often parents and doctors give cochlear implanted children only one option: an oral-aural environment, putting their eggs in one basket. At the Clerc Center on the Gallaudet campus, I worked with teachers and staff to establish a Center that supports learning and communicating both through the eyes and the ears, in a bilingual American Sign Language - English environment. This supports modern theory about children using all senses available to them for the maximizing of their cognitive development.
Some deaf people felt initially that the program was inappropriate but they have slowly seen the light. Seeing that American Sign Language and Deaf Culture can be retained, even while technology is harnessed, has led more and more deaf adults to get cochlear implants. This is the logic behind the program at the Clerc Center.
I am supporting the development of an inclusive deaf university where all deaf and hard of hearing students feel welcome to explore their identities as deaf people within the university's rich history.
Jacksonville, Fla.: I have been confused a bit about the protesters claiming that you "don't know what the protest is about." Is that because YOU don't know what it is about or they don't? I have not been able to get any cogent reason for the protest and it looks like they are making you look like you are ignorant to what is going on. What's your take on that?
Jane K. Fernandes: The dissenters have created a chain of reasons for the protest from my not being deaf enough, to an allegedly flawed search process, to my leadership style and personality. I believe it is incumbent on the dissenters to define their protest.
I know there are two demands -- I resign and no reprisals. But a protest has to be FOR something, so I want to LISTEN to those involved. I want you to tell me what you are FOR. You want the protest to reduce racism on campus? So do I and we have a plan that is already going into action. You want to protest to reduce audism on campus? So do I and we have a plan to do so that is beginning.
Washington, D.C.: The thing I'm sure you find frustrating about the students' position is how little they're willing to compromise. They keep saying they want you to come and negotiate with them, but what's the point when all they want is your resignation? Have you seen any evidence that they're actually interested in having a dialogue with you, as opposed to just making demands?
Jane K. Fernandes: To date, they have held firm to two non-negotiable demands. There is no fall back position and no room for negotiating.
I will continue to reach out to them and make it clear that I am ready, willing and able to work with them on the serious issues facing the University. I hope they want a peaceful resolution to this situation as much as I do.
Ryan, Tex.: Have you been in touch with other university presidents in D.C. or elsewhere? What do they think of the situation?
Jane K. Fernandes: I have been in touch with other university presidents who are concerned about the future of Gallaudet University. If students can overturn the Board's decision to appoint me as the next president, the Board may never be able to make a hard decision again. What will it mean for future hard decisions the President makes? It is not acceptable to have a protest each time the Gallaudet president is selected. In 1988, King Jordan became Gallaudet's first deaf president and the Deaf President Now protest was clearly for an ideal -- that a deaf person head the world's only university for deaf and hard of hearing people.
As the first deaf woman president of Gallaudet, my appointment should be cause for celebration. This protest is against me. The Board selected me after an inclusive and thorough search. The Search Committee had 14 deaf people in a total of 17 members. Faculty, staff, students and alumni were represented on the Committee. There were 24 applicants, 21 of whom were deaf. The Committee narrowed the field to six semi-finalists all of whom were deaf. From there, three finalists were announced. Each finalist had a intense and thorough two-day campus visit meeting with faculty, staff and students. An interview with the full Board of Trustees, the majority of whom are deaf, followed.
After such an exhaustive and comprehensive process, it boggles the mind how students or faculty could believe the decision can be overturned. The protest raises serious concerns for the future stability of Gallaudet's governance.
Arlington, Va.: I have no connection with Gallaudet, but I was surprised to see you refer to the student protesters as "terrorists." Do you stand by that characterization? Do you think that students who have participated in blocking access to school facilities should remain a part of the Gallaudet community?
Jane K. Fernandes: I used the word anarchy to describe the protest. It is clear to me that the protesters are giving a total lack of attention to established rules of order.
I also used the word terrorism. Perhaps it would have been better to use words like "discord," "tumult," "riot," and "insubordination." The dissenters at Gallaudet have demonstrated a complete disregard for social order. They have blocked gates and not allowed deaf children to get their education at Kendall School. They have locked down a building and not allowed university graduate and undergraduate students to get their education and barred faculty and staff from their offices. Students who do not support the protest, of which there are plenty, are being threatend. Terms negotiated in good faith are being revoked. An image of me has been burned in effigy. My family has been stalked. There have been threats on myself and my family.
From my position, there is nothing peaceful about this protest.
Washington, D.C.: Dr Fernandes, we live here in D.C., where politics is everything. One of the things D.C. residents understand is that leadership is not about issues, but how candidates define the issues.
You seem to be trying very hard to define, even develop issues that are very different from the people who are protesting.
Can you explain your strategy here?
Jane K. Fernandes: The reasons for the protest do seem to continuously evolve, so it's sometimes hard to keep track of them and define them. Right now, the protesters seems to be focusing on my leadership. So, let me define that issue. As to my leadership record:
A failed leader would not have led the Iowa Deaf community to advocate for our rights in relation to the state agency set up to serve our needs,
A failed leader would not have been able to create the University of Hawaii's interpreter education program at Kapiolani Community College,
A failed leader would not have been able to take a dying school for deaf and blind children and convert it into a thriving institution providing quality education,
A failed leader would not have been able to fully integrate students of color into Gallaudet's Clerc center classes with the result that benefited the academic performance of all students,
A failed leader would not be addressing head-on the very difficult issues of audism and racism that have plagued Gallaudet University, the Deaf community and our country for centuries,
A successful leader works with a coalition of people to promote policies and activities that benefit the whole. Because I have been and remain a successful leader, I have worked with many others to bring about the very accomplishments just described.
And finally, a failed leader would not be standing strong on principle to protect the integrity and future of Gallaudet University despite the incredible deluge of fabricated mud and muck being hurled at me.
Washington, D.C.: You seem to be contradicting yourself in this discussion. You said, "at one point there were as many as 24 demands which have now been reduced to two, which are non-negotiable. It is difficult to negotiate with people who are intransigent in their demands." Yet obviously the students HAVE been negotiating and willing to compromise if they have gone from 24 to two demands. You may not like their demands, but how can you possibly claim they are unwilling to negotiate?
Jane K. Fernandes: There have always been two non-negotiable demands: my resignation and no reprisals. When the students locked down the Hall Memorial Building, they proposed 24 demands they wanted from me and the administration in order to release the building.
At this point, the 24 demands have gone away because we re-took the building.
The two original demands still remain and those are not negotiable. It is impossible to negotiate when the protesters have no flexibility in their demands.
Arlington, Va.: Why don't they just redo the search? In my company if the best candidate is not found in our first solicitation, we throw it out and start again. Why not reapply and when the search committee recommends you again then your critics will be silenced.
Jane K. Fernandes: According to the President Search Committee and the Board, the search was fair and inclusive. At this point, I have the following options to recommend:
a. Engage the services of a neutral mediator to identify the major concerns of faculty, staff, students and alumni.
b. Contract for an outside investigation of the search process.
I would hope the protesters would agree on these options as an opportunity to address the real problems that are facing the university in a constructive manner.
Atlanta, Ga.: Great leaders, as you pointed out, are not winning popularity contests, but they do have followers. Based on the increasing number of protesters, who are your followers? How can you expect to lead when so few are following?
Jane K. Fernandes: I have a vast amount of support from what I see as a "silent majority." Right now, I am in the bull's eye of a target. The first one or two circles from the bull's eye represent the dissenters. All the other circles outward are where I find my support.
Each day, I receive emails, letters, flowers, and other messages of support.
Anonymous: To the outsider, it seems as though nothing was done over the summer months to address this issue. Why was the issue not addressed by you or the administration before students returned to school?
Jane K. Fernandes: I have been working since May to address the issues that were raised. I have been meeting and talking with students, faculty and staff about their issues. Several times, the meetings continued for up to three hours with a tremendous outpouring of concern for the future of Gallaudet. I worked very hard throughout the summer to resolve the issues.
Rochester, N.Y.: Is it true that you won't resign because you would lose out on a severance package that was described by one Board of Trustees member as worth up to $1 million?
Jane K. Fernandes: The rumor about a million dollar severance package has no basis in fact.
Washington, D.C.: Last week the university took the step of arresting their own students. Did you concur with that decision? Do you concur with the way that I. King Jordan is managing this crisis?
Jane K. Fernandes: The University did everything possible to avoid the arrests. It was a decision made as a last resort and it was a very painful decision.
For two days, the Metropolitan Police Department met and clarified with students what would happen if they did not release the gate. Students were fully informed about the consequences of their actions.
The gate had to be open because:
deaf children at Kendall and Model schools were being denied their education,
deaf babies coming for hearing tests were being denied the services they needed,
senior citizens in DC were being denied hearing and speech services,
undergraduate and graduate students were being denied their university education,
food for everyone on campus was running very low,
mail had not been delivered in a week.
It pains me deeply that students decided to be arrested rather than allow the University's mission of education to continue.
The MPD negotiated every aspect of the arrest with the students. For example, they agreed that handcuffs would not be used as long as the protesters did not resist arrest.
The University did everything possible to avoid the arrests.
Jane K. Fernandes: Thank you all for your participation. I hope I have been able to clear up some misinformation and now we can begin the process of moving beyond the current impasse and assure a successful future for Gallaudet University.
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