Monday, October 30, 2006

Lessons Learned at Gallaudet University

In a specially called meeting, the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees yesterday “terminated” the appointment of president-elect Jane K. Fernandes.

University and college boards and administrations all over the U.S. are today analyzing what happened over the past few months at Gallaudet, but I want to point out a few valuable lessons I hope these caretakers of higher education will take into consideration when faced with issues of governance.

Pre-ordained candidates still need to win over core stakeholders like the faculty and students. The wisdom of community is to be ignored at your own peril. Pricey, high-powered public relations cannot cure a bad or ill-thought-out decision. The Internet is a wild card factor that can no longer be dismissed. Bloggers can connect, report, sway and influence decisions. Students with passion are still relevant. The “big stick” doesn’t win hearts and minds. Boards of trustees must move beyond rubber-stamping to independent investigation.

Faculty and students are still what it’s all about. They are the hearts, minds and soul of Gallaudet and for that matter, every college and university. Please don’t forget that. My good wishes for healing in the Gally community.


Jay Croft said...


There is still a bit of mopping-up to do. The BoT refused the second demand of "no reprisals." However, FSSA (Faculty, Students, Staff, Alumni) have lawyers working on this issue. I believe that they will successfully argue that laws were not broken. Indeed, it was the campus police and the rent-a-cops who caused damage and injury.

We are all very relieved right now, and thankful that the hunger strikers can end their protest.

There is now pressure for I. King Jordan, the current president, to resign now, even though he has only a few weeks left of his presidency.

His statement of regret actually is a "sour grapes" comment. He is obviously bitter about his role in the fiasco.

Jay Croft said...

A further comment--

"pre-ordained candidates" should be verboten. There's usually a reason for them to be pushed through.

Ridor said...

One interesting historical tidbit from Gallaudet -- I believe it was Dr. Johns or Dr. Merrill, he once told the faculty and staff members at his introduction to the community as the President of Gallaudet, one of these men said, "Remember you are here for the students, that is your primary goal."

Truer words were never spoken.


Sheila said...

Rev Croft,
Thanks for your comments. I hope Gallaudet can find a strong leader to pull the community together. To this outsider, that could be a very difficult task given Jordan's and the Board's roles in creating this mess to begin with. I'd be curious to see whom you think might be able to step up to the plate.

I think Gallaudet will also be a case study in the new role of citizen public relations in influencing opinions and a cavat to those who try to ignore this new manner of communicating.

Sheila said...

I think somewhere in the process the Board and President Jordan forgot your point about the students. How could the board have been so foolish to ignore this group as they obviously did? The idea that students will leave after four years or when they finish their studies is to overlook that these same students will become alumni and potential donors. We still care long after our days of class are done. That was a big part behind the passion you and other bloggers tapped into to rally support for the protesters.

If I wore a hat, I'd tip to you and RidorLive and other bloggers who showed that there's power in the keyboard.

St Yves said...

Thanks for the views on this subject- I heard about it first this Am on NPR and you helped flesh it out and I ALWAYS apreciate that : )

Sheila said...

st yves,
That's a very kind remark. I appreciate you stopping by. The point you make is a telling one though. How often do we catch bits and pieces of a story without knowing "the rest of the story" as I believe, Paul Harvey, is so fond of saying? So much of our news is obtained from a scroll over the tv screen as we watch CNN, Fox or MSNBC. Yet, if we read a couple of national newspapers and a few blogs here or there, those details begin to emerge and we get a richer picture of events.

Jay Croft said...

It probably was Dr. Merill. He really had a big heart for Gallaudet. He was very accessible and would walk around campus. I remember him bringing his grandson to the bowling alley one evening, in what was then called Ely Center. To my great embarrassment, my young daughter picked up a bowling ball and dropped it on the brand-new hardwood floor. He winced, but he didn't call the cops on us.

Dr Merrill's wife had only one arm, but that didn't stop her from interacting with the campus community.

Jay Croft said...

Sheila, some time ago you said, "This story has legs." It's going to be interesting to see what happens with these issues:

1. Apparently JKF still has tenure at Gallaudet. She was nominally a member of the Deaf Studies faculty. The chair of the department is a firebrand Capital D Deaf person, who was very much in the forefront of the protests. She would be JKF's boss if JKF stays within that department.

2. The BoT refused to grant the second demand of no reprisals. If IKJ insists on severe punishment, hell is going to break loose all over again.

3. Not only must the presidential search be re-opened, but the process must be re-designed. This will take time. I feel that an interim president will be appointed by the BoT.

4. Traditionally in early December the President has an elaborate holiday reception at House #1 (the president's home.) This has always been open for the entire campus community. I wonder if this is going to happen this year.

Jay Croft said...


Sometimes students come back as faculty or staff! There are a significant number of such persons at Gallaudet.

When I served St. John's Church for the Deaf one or two of our members had gone to Kendall School as children, then enrolled in the undergraduate program, received their Masters' degrees elsewhere (until about 1955 the graduate schools at Gallaudet refused to accept Deaf students!) and joined the faculty.

It is theoretically possible for a Deaf person to start at Gallaudet's pre-school program and, many years later, come out with a PhD. All this on 92 acres!

Sheila said...

Interesting Rev. Croft. I know it will be some time before these issues and problems get resolved. I saw a story on ABC News last night but didn't watch the Nightline they were supposed to devote to Gallaudet.