Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A re-look at Gallaudet

Last Spring, when she was named president, I wrote a couple of posts about the newly named president, Jane Fernandes. It turned out to be the two most read posts of this blog. The spike was amazing. Emotions then were running very high. That seems to have escalated.

In the time that I have been a professor I have had the opportunity to teach a couple of deaf students. There were a couple of things that amazed me about that experience. First, as with all other translators, at first it is a bit disconcerting to work with a signer. After a while you get to ignore it. But it takes some practice. Second, the speed with which both students used their IM capabilities was amazing. They both used a Sidekick and their ability to type out stuff, like questions was amazing. In one course, the student participated in a debate on an issue we were discussing and I soon forgot that she was typing her answers. That was an eye opening experience for me.

In the last few weeks the problem with the President Elect has increased. News reports in the NYT suggest that a group of students closed the campus down. The retiring president, in a statement from the website commented "We have shown extraordinary restraint in the face of extreme provocation over the past several weeks." He goes on to say “Civility, integrity, and truth are victims today, held hostage as much as our beloved campus is. I have been asked why I haven’t used police to end the stand off. It is because I care about the safety of all of our students more than the protestors care about anything but getting their way. This illegal and unlawful behavior must stop. The faculty members who are instigating and manipulating the students have simply gone too far in pursuit of their own agendas. If there is a confrontation, the dissenters will have caused it. They must take full responsibility for the consequences of their actions, including possible suspension and arrest.”

The president elect has used similar language in her statements. Perhaps, both could benefit from some reading about how colleges and universities have successfully dealt with student protests. Both statements seem almost patronizing to the demands of the students. When I wrote about this earlier, the protesters responded that one of their concerns was the way that the administration dealt with them during the search.

The most telling statement in the NYT article is from a student who is one of the protesters. He commented that the president elect had previously served as provost - the chief academic leader of the University. He raised a question about the 40% graduation rate. If those numbers are true, then the board should be concerned about affirming a leader who has not been able to move that percentage up. The chair of the board of trustees expressed concern in a statement about the safety of the students - I would have been more impressed with her if she had also expressed some concern about the 40% graduation rate.

The Washington Post in an editorial yesterday commented "Students at Gallaudet University are entitled to protest the school's choice of president if they so choose. They're entitled to protest how that choice was made. They're not entitled to hold hostage the educational hopes of their classmates. Doing so undermines the legitimacy of their campaign and strikes at the heart of the nation's leading institution of higher education for the deaf." I am not a fan of protests but I am not sure I agree with the Post's conclusion. In the end this kind of disruption does as the Post suggested, disturbs the educational dreams of students. But the board needs to consider the consequences of how to resolve this - it also needs to assist whoever is the next president with raising graduation rates at the University. All of the sources that I have read on this suggest that Fernandes is well qualified and yet there is that nagging notion that a 40% graduation rate is totally unacceptable. Students at the university should have a reasonable expectation that once enrolled they will graduate. So in this case I understand the tactics of the students. At one point the administration and the protesters explored whether it would be a good idea to do an independent review of the search process. That sounds like a good idea to me.

The politics in the deaf community are intense. I hope this is resolved soon. Gallaudet is an internationally recognized resource. It deserves a leader who can meet the needs of students.

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