Monday, October 16, 2006

Bad Signs at Gallaudet

I was present at and marginally involved in the campus upheavals of the late 1960s and early ‘70s and again in the Deaf President Now movement that overthrew a college president and installed a deaf man, I. King Jordan, as president of Gallaudet University 18 years ago.

How times change! The world’s greatest university for the deaf and hard of hearing is now threatened by three weeks of insane student demands – non-negotiable – that Jordan’s successor be dumped in favor of -- anyone else. It shocks me to think that I could be on the side of a university administration in anything, but for the life of me I cannot understand these mewling little nutcakes who have no strategy, no tactics, no sense, no knowledge of academia and a misperception of what brought them to Gallaudet in the first place.

It seems that Jordan’s successor, Jane Fernandes, picked by a diverse board of trustees and backed by Jordan – the Martin Luther King Jr., of the deaf world – is “not deaf enough” whatever that means. The fact is she has been the chief academic officer of the university during a period of growth and increasing academic excellence. The fact also is she has a brusque manner that students – transients that they are – and entrenched faculty don’t like.

In 1988, it was a bright young activist faculty that coalesced and installed Jordan. In 2006, it is a lazy, entrenched faculty that wishes to usurp the role of the trustees -- manipulating students and alumni as their pawns – to install a lesser leader and lesser credentialed black figurehead that will make everyone feel good about the diminution of the school’s reputation.

That reputation is pretty well shot now by the dawdling by Jordan and Fernandes and by the ineptitude of students in articulating what they do want. The only positive thing Gallaudet has now is that it is the peer of Harvard – where a short-sighted runaway faculty threw out the best president it could ever have. Not because of his views but because he insisted on standards for a faculty whose work was as inflated as the grades it gives. They are now watching the money leave.

Back at Gallaudet, students want the institution to be only the center of deaf culture. It must be that, but it must also adapt rapidly to a new world where many deaf babies and adults are getting cochlear implants to give them the ability to hear. It must maintain and widen its diversity of race, nationality, class and degrees of deafness. At Gallaudet, much of the budget is appropriated by Congress, and students would be wise to note that most voters are not deaf, most hate wasting government money on a school taken over by thugs, and most do not get to elect their bosses.

Last week, students said if they don’t get their way they will withdraw. Can you believe that? Let them go! Expel them! Then let them get an education elsewhere that will prepare them for a real world where most people are hearing, where many deaf people want to hear and communicate in their own way, and where you negotiate your differences instead of destroying hard-won gains by whining.

(As always, the views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of friends and others who are connected officially or otherwise with Gallaudet.)

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