The newly chosen president for the nation’s only liberal arts college for the deaf is drawing protests from students and faculty, some of whom question whether she is “deaf enough” to lead their school.
Last week, Jane K. Fernandes was named to succeed I. King Jordan as president of Gallaudet University. She isn’t scheduled to take over until January, but already the school’s faculty was planning to meet next week to consider a no-confidence vote against her.
Fernandes, 47, says she is caught in a cultural debate.
She was born deaf but grew up speaking, and she didn’t learn American Sign Language until she was 23. She now characterizes herself as a “fluent signer” who can understand and be understood by everyone on campus.
“There’s a kind of perfect deaf person,” said Fernandes, who described that as someone who is born deaf to deaf parents, who learns ASL at home, attends deaf schools, marries a deaf person and has deaf children. “People like that will remain the core of the university.”
She noted that 86 percent of the deaf and hearing-impaired students in the United States now attend public schools because of improvements in technology, medicine and education.
Jordan became Gallaudet’s first deaf president in 1988 after the Board of Trustees gave in to a large student protest movement.
He also influenced the search process in favor of his hand-picked successor, Fernandes, who was the school’s former provost, the demonstrators say. They want the Board of Trustees to reopen the process.
“We all know this is wrong,” said professor E. Lynn Jacobowitz. “There might be a few who disagree … but 99.9 percent of the people here support this protest.”
Some protesters argue that Fernandes is not respected on campus and cannot speak for the majority of its students.
“She has not won us over in six years. She does not make a good first impression,” said Anthony T. Mowl, 21, an English major from Fishers, Ind.
Jordan said the board’s choice for president is “not the winner of the popularity contest” and that this movement should not be compared to the one that swept him into office. If the board gives in, he said, it would be dangerous for the future governance of the school.
— Associated Press
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