Article - Office of College Advancement

Locally, deaf support ouster at Gallaudet

By Linh Tat, Staff writer.

Thursday, November 2, 2006—Reprinted from Tri-Valley Herald.

Fremont—Many in the deaf community, both in the Tri-City area and nationally, are celebrating this week's decision by Gallaudet University trustees to revoke appointment of a controversial figure as the institution's next president.

For five months, students, staff and alumni of the Washington, D.C.-based Gallaudet—regarded as the world's leading liberal arts university for the deaf—rallied throughout the country in protest of Jane Fernandes.

Hired as the university's provost six years ago, Fernandes was supported by retiring President I. King Jordan, but her critics called her an ineffective leader.

When she refused to give in to protesters' demands that she resign, the trustees voted Sunday to revoke her appointment as president-designate. Fernandes was to assume the presidency Jan. 1.

"Although undoubtedly there will be some … who have differing views on the meaning of this decision, we believe that it is a necessity at this point. … It has certainly been a difficult and trying time for our Gallaudet community. Now is the time for healing," the board said in a statement.

Members of the local deaf community said this week that board members finally heard their cries.

During the past several months, various newspapers have reported that some detractors believed Fernandes was "not deaf enough"—that she can speak and read lips, and that she did not learn American Sign Language until she was in her 20s. But that was never the real issue, Gallaudet alumni in the Tri-City area said.

"The issue was really about her leadership ability, and then things escalated and grew, bringing the other facets into the protest," Sandra Ammons, an associate professor in the American Sign Language department at Ohlone College, said via a translator.

Ammons and other alumni criticized the search process as being flawed.

Gallaudet needs a president, hearing or not, who understands the deaf culture and the need to promote American Sign Language, they said. Deaf people consider themselves bilingual, with American Sign Language as their first language and English as their second language.

It's important that the university lead the way in promoting that viewpoint, they said.

"(Gallaudet is) more than just a school. (It's) the center of deaf culture," said Clark Brooke, the middle school principal at California School for the Deaf in Fremont.

Fernandes earlier received a no-confidence vote from the faculty.

"I love Gallaudet University and I believe I could have made a significant contribution to its future," Fernandes said in a statement this week. "I trust that we all want a stronger, better, more inclusive Gallaudet where ASL and deaf culture have been and always will be at the core of academic and community life."

The ouster of Fernandes is not the first time that students have championed successfully for a voice in the selection of their school's leader.

Jordan, the outgoing president, became the university's first deaf president in 1988 after students protested the board's decision to hire another hearing person for the job.

Ammons, whose daughter is a sophomore at Gallaudet, said she would like the next president to come from a deaf background as well.

"It's important for Gallaudet students that they can see a president who is deaf and is an effective leader," she said. "(He or she) can be a walking example."

Tom Holcomb, a professor in the Center for Deaf Studies and Special Services at Ohlone College who graduated from Gallaudet and whose two daughters are students there, said he hopes the university will follow a more open and inclusive search process for the next president.

"It's the beginning of positive energy for the betterment of Gallaudet," he said.

"The eyes of the deaf community all around the world are focused on Gallaudet."

Staff writer Linh Tat covers education for The Argus. She can be reached at (510) 353-7010 or ltat@angnewspapers.com.

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