Crisis at Gallaudet University
October 8, 2006
Vol. 2 No. 48
Editor: Tom Willard
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GALLAUDET STUDENTS TAKE OVER CAMPUS BUILDING
Hundreds of protesters took over Gallaudet University’s main academic building Thursday night and continue to stage a sit-in three days later. They are protesting the school’s selection of Jane K. Fernandes to replace President I. King Jordan when he retires December 31 and the manner in which she was selected. The lockdown of Hall Memorial Building began after protesters were prevented from entering a retirement bash for Jordan at the Kellogg Conference Center. The activists say they won't leave the building until Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees reopens the presidential search process. But board members, on campus for meetings Thursday and Friday, returned home without resolving the conflict.
NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE THROUGH THE WEEKEND
Interim Provost Michael Moore issued a statement this morning saying he met with student leaders yesterday for several hours “to seek a peaceful resolution of issues that would lead to resumption of classes in the classroom building.” Moore was joined by Dean of Student Affairs Carl Pramuk and Executive Director of Enrollment Services Debby DeStefano. He said they would “continue the dialogue” with protest leaders today, and said the university “is committed to providing a positive [campus] environment in which everyone feels safe and respected.”
STUDENTS ALLEGE ‘UNPROVOKED’ ASSAULT BY CAMPUS POLICE
On Friday morning at 8 a.m., officers from Gallaudet’s Department of Public Safety forcibly entered HMB in response to an alleged bomb threat. “DPS started pushing and hitting students and threatening to spray mace,” said witness Leah Katz-Hernandez in an open letter. “The attack from DPS came totally unprovoked.” Afterwards, both sides offered different versions. According to a press release from Gallaudet University FSSA Coalition (www.gufssa.org), an officer "pushed through the crowd, roughly shoving students and ripping shirts” and “sprayed students with pepper spray.” A statement from Gallaudet’s Public Relations office, however, states, “Rumors of student injury are false. No pepper spray was used.” A video of the incident can be seen here: www.blip.tv/file/83354/.
ACTIVISTS DISRUPT NAMING CEREMONIES FOR JORDANS
Demonstrators disrupted ceremonies to honor President I. King Jordan and his wife, Linda, on Thursday, reported The Washington Post. A ceremony to name a Washburn Art Building gallery in honor of Linda Jordan was crowded with students waving signs and making so much noise that people outside could feel the vibrations in the windows. Sociology Department Chair Margaret Weigers Vitullo told the Post’s Susan Kinzie that the demonstrators crossed the line. “Students are there saying awful, horrible things to people, in front of [the Jordans’] grandchild ... it was unbelievably vile.” Following the dedication of the Linda K. Jordan Gallery, a second ceremony was held at the student center, which was renamed the I. King Jordan Student Academic Center. Pictures and videos can be seen here.
MEDIA BANNED FROM CAMPUS, ACTIVISTS SAY
The Gallaudet protests have made headlines worldwide, despite a reported ban on news media from entering the campus. Faculty leader Mark Weinberg said in a letter to Gallaudet official Cathy Sweet-Windham that faculty and adminstrators were concerned about “the denial of access to campus by the media and their broadcasting vehicles.” He said he asked Public Relations Director Mercy Coogan for clarification and failed to get a response. He also criticized the PR office for sending out a single student’s private letter that supports the administration. “Are you planning on allowing similar access to others on campus?” he asked. Activists also complained that school officials have prohibited staff interpreters from getting involved, making it harder for deaf protesters to communicate with the media.
‘BRIDGE-BUILDING’ FACULTY-BOARD LUNCHEON CANCELED
Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees canceled a luncheon with faculty Friday that had been billed as “an opportunity to build bridges and improve communications.” When the luncheon was about to begin, board member Tom Humphries arrived and apologized that the board was locked in an all-day emergency meeting. The luncheon went on anyway, said Mark Weinberg in a report, with attendees reflecting on the current crisis. Late in the day, the board summoned faculty members for an update on developments. With only about half the board in attendance and just 10 minutes to speak, faculty members Weinberg, Tammy Weiner and Kubby Rashid expressed their “distress at the lack of true interactive dialogue with the Board over the years” and noted that the luncheon, “even if it had occurred, was an insufficient opportunity for meaningful dialogue.”
STUDENT LEADERS GIVEN FIVE MINUTES WITH BOARD
Gallaudet’s Board of Trustees set aside its agenda Friday and spent all day in closed meetings, said an FSSA press release. At 3:45 p.m., the Board asked to meet for five minutes with Noah Beckman, president of the Student Body Government. Beckman arrived with three other student leaders, an attorney and the SBG faculty sponsor. They later reported “feeling a lack of concern and interest from board members, who repeatedly stated they had flights to catch and no time to give.” Brenda Brueggemann, interim chair of the Board, did not attend the meeting but was seen minutes later giving the media a prepared statement saying that the board had met with students and faculty members to hear their views and concerns.
BOARD SAYS ADMINISTRATION WILL ‘DO WHAT IS NECESSARY’
“We look forward to Dr. Fernandes becoming the next President of Gallaudet University,” Board Chair Brenda Brueggemann told the media on Friday afternoon. Brueggemann, who was joined by President I. King Jordan, began her remarks by saying, “Clearly, this has been a difficult day here on campus.” She said the 21-member board is committed mostly to the safety of Gallaudet students, faculty and staff and has “directed the Administration to do what is necessary both to assure the safety of our students and to allow the work of the university to proceed.” She added that the board will work to eliminate “oppression of all kinds, including audism and racism on campus,” and reaffirmed Gallaudet’s commitment to American Sign Language “and the cultures of deaf people all over the world.”
DEMAND FOR INDEPENDENT REVIEW MADE, WITHDRAWN
Two demands have been made by FSSA protesters. They want the Board of Trustees to reopen the presidential search process, which would include the resignation of president-designate Jane K. Fernandes, and they want a promise of no reprisals against protesters. “Jane Must Resign” was the headline of an FSSA press release Friday that described Fernandes as “one who leads by force, lies and intimidation.” A third demand, an independent review of the presidential selection process, was presented to the Board on Thursday morning but taken off the table the next day. According to blogger Elisa Abenchuchan (www.elisawrites.com), board members “had all day to discuss it ... and they chose to celebrate and have fun at the gala” instead.
FERNANDES: NO ONE KNOWS ISSUES BETTER THAN I DO
No one is better equipped to lead Gallaudet University than Jane Fernandes, said Jane Fernandes in The Washington Post. “I don’t think there’s anyone on earth who knows the issues better than I do,” said Fernandes in an article published yesterday. “I’ve been living in it. ... I know there’s audism here. I know there’s racism here. I know it happens, and more importantly, I have a plan to address it.” The same article reported that four student leaders, including student government President Noah Beckman, plan to withdraw from Gallaudet.
JORDAN TO APPEAR ON NATIONAL RADIO SHOW THURSDAY
Gallaudet President I. King Jordan is scheduled to appear on National Public Radio’s “Talk of the Nation” this Thursday. The program is devoting its entire two hours to the future of deaf education and culture, said an NPR press release. Jordan will join host Neal Conan during the first hour to discuss his legacy and the Fernandes controversy. Live captioning of the radio broadcast will appear on NPR’s website and viewers can submit questions for Jordan via email. Sue Goodwin, the show’s executive producer, said she hopes to include deaf participants by using a TTY. To learn more, go to www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6189253.
ALUMNI ASSOCIATION RELEASES TWO LETTERS
The Gallaudet University Alumni Association released two letters last week to the Board of Trustees. In the first, GUAA President Andrew Lange noted that only one-third of Gallaudet’s board is made up of alumni. He said that GUAA’s board has voted unanimously to request that a majority of board members be Gallaudet alumni. In the second letter, Lange noted “serious allegations of oppressed behavior and intimidation tactics” that conflict with I. King Jordan’s claim that there is no crisis at Gallaudet. With the faculty passing a no-confidence vote on Jane Fernandes and the student government passing resolutions against her selection, the GUAA “is increasingly alarmed at the current state of affairs on campus,” said Lange.
NAD ISSUES SIXTH STATEMENT ON CAMPUS UNREST
The National Association of the Deaf weighed in on the Gallaudet crisis Friday with its sixth Open Letter on the subject. The letter, signed by NAD President Bobbie Beth Scoggins and CEO Nancy J. Bloch, said that “healthy dialogue ... cannot begin until trust is restored.” Said the NaD: "It is vital that the University immediately cease any confrontational tactics toward campus faculty, students and staff.” The NAD noted the “ominous words” of a university press release ( “We will take whatever steps are necessary to restore order to campus”) and called on board members “to resolve the ongoing crisis of leadership and trust.”
TENT CITIES POP UP ELSEWHERE TO SHOW SUPPORT
Several cities around the country have held Tent City protests to show their support for Gallaudet protesters. On Wednesday in Fremont, Calif., deaf community members from the Bay Area pitched tents on a soccer field and heard from speakers that included Bridgetta Bourne-Firl, a student leader of the 1988 Deaf President Now movement, and Tom Holcomb, an Ohlone College professor, Gallaudet alum and parent of two current Gallaudet students. Tent cities have also sprung up in Wisconsin; Austin, Texas; Indianapolis, Ind.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Faribault, Minn.
POLL ASKS: DO YOU SUPPORT THE PROTEST?
Do you support the protest at Gallaudet University? That’s the simple question in a poll at Mike McConnell’s blogsite, “Kokonut Pundits.” Take the poll by visiting www.kokonutpundits.blogspot.com.
In addition to links mentioned above, here are a few more:
BisonTV.com – Video clips of
the week’s events:
Deaf Bison Network – Unity
Deaf Read, offering links to numerous
blogs covering the protests:
Gallaudet University’s Update
on Current Campus Situation:
Petition on Gallaudet University
RidorLive.com, featuring daily reports
and plenty of feedback:
SignCasts.com, offering signed video
to subscribe or here to
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