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Gallaudet’s President Resigns: Reflections

October 30, 2006

To continue on some past discussions here (one, two) about Gallaudet, I want to reflect on a CNN story about Jane Fernandes’ resignation. Here are some salient passages from the piece:

– “‘I love Gallaudet University, and I believe I could have made a significant contribution to its future,’ [Fernandes] said. ‘I hope that the Gallaudet community can heal the wounds that have been created.'”
– “This is the second time in 18 years that protests have forced presidents from office at Gallaudet. In 1988, students rallied on Capitol Hill, demanding the board appoint a ‘Deaf President Now.’ Elisabeth Zinser, president at the time, resigned after about a week in the position.”
– “Protesters this time said that Fernandes, 50, was an ineffective leader as provost and that she was not the best person to address a lack of diversity, declining enrollments and low graduation rates. They said the board ignored surveys by students and faculty members during the presidential search that called her ‘unacceptable.'”
– “The decision to remove Fernandes ‘feels very good,’ said student body president Noah Beckman, who helped lead protests. Some students carried cases of beer across campus and shared in celebration with their professors Sunday night.”
– “[I. King] Jordan, who was installed as the school’s first deaf president after the 1988 protests, remained steadfast in his support for Fernandes on Sunday. ‘Her vision and her plans to make that vision come to life would have guided the university we all love into a bright future.’ Jordan said in a written statement.”
– “Gallaudet, which receives more than $100 million in funding annually from the federal government, was rated “ineffective” this year by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget. The report cited problems with the school’s retention of students and its graduation rate; persistently fewer than 50 percent of undergraduates get their diploma.”
– “Greg Hlibok, the student government leader who helped lead the 1988 protests, said the Gallaudet board forgot, once again, to listen to the university’s students, faculty and alumni in its presidential selection.”

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If nothing else, Gallaudet’s story is about shared governance. Why is it that some higher education institutions have trouble soliciting – and really listening to – input from non-administrators? Is it a question of power or simple mismanagement? You would think that the campus tumults of the late 1960s and early 1970s would have taught administrators something. Perhaps Gallaudet’s situation is indicative of what a lack of knowledge about the history of higher education can cause? To paraphrase a well-known history proverb: those ignorant of the past are doomed to repeat it.

Why did the CNN story have to note the fact that beer was enjoyed after the protest? The random mention of partying seems to denigrate the importance of the Fernandes’ resignation. It’s as if the writer hinted that mere protest success was more important than the larger issues involved. This New York Times piece has done the best job so far of illuminating the broader significance of the Gallaudet situation. – TL

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One Comment
  1. brianriley429atgmail permalink

    Actually, Fernandes did *not* resign. We had to force her out by putting pressure on the Board of Trustees to rescind her contract as the upcoming president. Had we not done that, she would have become president of Gallaudet on January 1, 2007. Here’s more information:

    Click to access Motion_to_rescind.pdf

    Like

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