Sunday, October 22, 2006

Gallaudet University: Management by Intimidation

While I’m not deaf, I have been following with interest the situation at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. I believe by now the world is aware of the student protests, faculty vote of no-confidence, alumni uproar and board of trustees split as to the fate of president-select Jane K. Fernandes.

The Washington Post has been covering the story with excellent reporting on the part of Susan Kinzie. However, the WP has sided editorially with the administration. I was glad to see this morning the WP op-ed piece by Noah Beckman, president of the student government and Bobbie Beth Scoggins, president of the National Association of the Deaf. In particular, I was struck with their mention of what I (as an admittedly less informed reader than some) view as a large part in the dissatisfaction with Fernandes, the board of trustees and the current President I. King Jordan.

One of the issues surrounding Fernandes has to do with charges of management by intimidation. According to the authors of the op-ed piece, “Gallaudet staff members are terrified to express opinions critical of the administration, so there is little incentive among university employees to make suggestions for improvement.” They say that this dissatisfaction goes back to 2000 when Fernandes was named provost and she received a vote of no-confidence from the faculty.

A university is more than a business. It must be managed in a business-like manner, but administrators and boards of trustees must be keenly aware of the differences between a typical business and a university. A university is a collegial environment with committees and a sense of community that is not conducive to your typical management by the “big stick” that some businesses embrace. A university has a heart and a soul and that is its students, faculty and alumni. The smart administrations recognize this distinction.


Jay Croft said...

Thank you for your comments! You have given important support.

--Jay Croft

Jay Croft said...

Latest news is: 4,000 people marched from Gallaudet to the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, in protest of JKF.

Also, students who were arrested are now being summoned to the Judicial Affairs committee at Gallaudet. They face expulsion or Persona Non Grata status.

Anonymous said...

It is a rather unforunate series of events. I very much hope the Board of Trustees asks Jane K. Fernandes to resign and/or Jane K. Fernandes resigns herself. Please if anything spread the word so we can have the world support the protestors for a better tomorrow at Gallaudet University.


Dirty Butter said...

Another emotional issue is her push to include students who do not use ASL, but rather use speech and lip reading only. This includes those who have had cochlear implants. The students who sign see this as a way to isolate them from part of the conversations on campus.

Ridor said...

dirty butter, that is full of crap. AT Gallaudet, we already have MANY students who do not use ASL, use speech heavily and has cochlear implants. And they eventually learned ASL because it is natural.

And what is YOUR Point? It is not about the "deaf thing" as you tried to portray!



Sheila said...

Thanks to all for commenting.

For whatever reasons Fernandes lost support before she even sat in the president's chair. The Board of Trustees of Gallaudet may think it conducted a fair selection process, but at least 82% of the faculty who voted no-confidence don't. The student protestors don't. Alumni are up in arms. Outsiders are scratching their heads as to what's behind this situation.

One thing is clear to this outsider, Fernandes's management and communications styles are seriously in question. If you read the Washington Post on-line interview with her yesterday, maybe you'd be as puzzled as I was in her answer to a question about how she would get people to follow her if she indeed becomes president. She mentioned she'd get neutral mediators to help her. Heavens to Betsy! What an odd way to start out!

Perhaps, the board is afraid to "cave" to the demands, thinking that it would set a precedent of "mob rule." Could it be that it lies more in their failure to gather sufficient community buy-in for this candidate to begin with? I don't think there would be the passion if due consideration had been given long ago.

Jay Croft said...

For as long as I can remember, Gallaudet has offered a "new signers program" for incoming students with insufficient skills in sign language. Their orientation program also seeks to include students with diverse backgrounds.

There are many kinds of deaf people: born-deaf, DODAs (Deaf of Deaf Adults), prelingually deaf, postlingually deaf, deaf-blind, blind-deaf--to name just a few categories. There is no such thing as "the deaf," in my opinion.

Gallaudet is home for all, plus a sizeable number graduate programs, including EdD and PhD.

Sheila said...

Rev Croft,
I gathered Gallaudet had all kinds of students and faculty and thought perhaps the emphasis on the "deaf identity" issue might be a red herring of sorts.

Jay Croft said...

"Red herring" is exactly right!

Back in 1988 The Board of Trustees hired the most prestigious law firm in DC, Arnold & Porter, to put their spin on the selection of Elizabeth Zinser. They just made themselves look ridiculous.

Now Gallaudet is again hiring professional spin doctors, but they are no match against the sheer numbers of people against JKF.

Latest is that actor Bernard Bragg, who earlier put a $1 million gift "on hold" during the protests, has requested her to resign, for the good of the community. BB is one of the best-known alumni, at least in the Deaf community.

Dirty Butter said...

I'm glad to see some comments from what appear to be actual Gallaudet students. I had read the information about the ASL issue somewhere on the Internet, and thought it was true. I'm glad to be corrected. But was there not some controversy in the past over the hiring of a President who was "not deaf enough?" Or was that more media spin?

I taught the first deaf student our elementary school had ever had. It was his first year to be in a regular school, and this was long before there were such accomodations as aides. I was given a large ASL picture book, and that was it. I studied each night to learn the key words I would need for the next day's lessons, he lip read a lot, and he laughed at my mistakes a lot, too. He was a very smart young man, and he did just fine. He later graduated from Gallaudet.

It really does sound like the Board of Trustees failed to take into account the opinions of the faculty and students during the selection process. I can understand why they would not want to set a precedent of giving in to a boycott, but it looks like, in this case, they should.

Sheila said...

Rev. Croft and Rosemary,
Thanks for commenting. I'll continue to follow the story and hope for the sake of those who love Gallaudet a resolution is soon forthcoming.

I've only had one comment that wasn't pro-protest. I welcome those who support Fernandes to write. Otherwise, I have to conclude that her supporters are seriously outnumbered. With a mention from, I received over 300 unique visitors to the AKS. This issue resonates with many folks around the world and I even received an e-mail from someone in Australia.

The Board is between a rock and a hard place for sure. Gallaudet will only be able to move ahead when a leader is selected who can communicate with all constituents.

Deaf258 said...

Sheila, thanks for your blog entry! It's refreshing to see more hearing people who see (and write) the truth about the protests at Gallaudet University!

Sheila said...

Glad you stopped by deaf258. I keep thinking and hoping some resolution might be reached before things get uglier. The board must step up and decide one way or another. And soon.