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.