Sunday, May 07, 2006

to Cloak and Dagger:

Cloak & Dagger
(#2303) | 2006-05-06 14:45:57

So the Board of Trustees meetings took place in February? Well, that’s more convenient, but after reading it, it doesn’t say much about student concerns’ about the administration. All I see is the the Committee on Student Affairs which was a panel of students who participated in internships, and reports from the Student Body Government and the Graduate Student Association. So, is that enough? Doesn’t look like it.

I keep hearing rumors about Fernandes’s radical approach in revamping the curriculums at Kendall and MSSD which caused an uproar among the teachers and parents. Can anyone comment on that?

Of course I was not privy to everything, but I can comment on this.

In 1996 MSSD finally received a new principal. Cindy Bailes had left a few years ago, and another woman named Viv Rice had taken her place. She was Acting Principal of MSSD while the search for her replacement progressed.

At the same time the Principal was selected, a new Director of the then-named Pre-College National Mission Programs was announced. Jane K. Fernandes would run both programs, and Kathy Jankowsky would be the Principal of MSSD. I remember the fascination everyone had with their initials. JK, KJ.

I was editor of THN, MSSD's newspaper, at that time. We had had a pretty awesome year. I was running the whole damn thing off my computer, really. (At the time I was using Windows '95. And it was COOL. Such a geek.)

I decided I wanted to write up articles on both women. I interviewed Ms. Fernandes. She was very pleasant and we had a nice talk. I wanted to impress her; like Adam, I thought she was very sensible. I think she seemed impressed by the questions I asked. I asked about her vision for how classes would work and teachers. She made one comment I remember about "believing any teacher should be able to teach any class." My friend still has the paper with the original article, I think - anyone got it? I got a scanner.

Well, I went ahead and wrote it up, she read it, and the very night the principal approved the paper, we ran the press and the day it was distributed, apparently, the teachers at MSSD got very, very upset. They didn't like a lot of the things JK had said, and JK had apparently said other things along the same lines at a variety of meetings. I didn't know any of this until that afternoon when I was taken to the office of the director of athletics. He and a couple of other people from the Athletics dept. acted very stern with me, accusing me of... I wasn't sure. I was 16 and pretty small and yeah, these guys made me nervous, because it seemed they already decided I was to be punished and I still had no idea what I did wrong at this point-I had no idea the teachers would take what had been said and become angry. What the heck did I know? Don't kill the messenger, right? And the principal had read the article and approved of it.

They threatened me with suspensions and various other things. Eventually - please understand my signing was getting better but it was still tough to figure out some of the things these guys were saying, I wasn't used to national sign diversity yet - I figured out they wanted me to retract everything said in the interview, admit I had 'pushed' until they approved the article, take all responsibility, etc. etc. I believe they thought that I had been trying to stir up trouble with that article.

The sponsor of the newspaper came to the office really pissed off. That man will always be a hero in my eyes. He brought me back - I don't really remember where to. I was very, very confused. Later someone explained about the teachers and I put it all together. It was strongarm tactics, you see. Like the faculty at Gallaudet have stated, she did not involve the MSSD teachers in any planning. She did not consult them or value their expertise. How was a teacher of English supposed to feel being told they should teach Math also? Their experience in the subject was not considered important. So rather than take responsibility for her statements, they tried to blame me.

But enough teachers remembered their words on stage at various presentations to know this was a lie. I had NO idea the teachers would get upset. I was NOT trying to stir up trouble and had no idea there was anything negative going on. I was BLIND to politics in MSSD. I'm still not good at it. Too blunt.

The teachers at MSSD were the ones who vouched for and fought for me. And when I graduated they awarded me a scholarship, decided only by the votes of the faculty, for excellence in journalism.

That year also saw the closing of the MSSD Road Show, a mostly self-financing organization run by an excellent man and teacher, Tim McCarty, and several other programs. The once-national school was reduced; it was decided only students from a 100-mile radius would be permitted into MSSD. I do not know if those changes were implemented; I left and could not bear to watch the changes in my school. They also established a "Talon" program where people earned basic rights - like the ability to leave campus - by being forced to join officially-established organizations. The amount of points earned were tilted sharply in favor of athletics programs; possibly this explained the eagerness of the athletics dept. earlier. (Others have informed me they never implemented the radius reduction and the "Talon" program was eliminated because nobody could understand it.)

This is my experience, and a personal narrative. I offer it in the hope people will develop more understanding of the current situation. I did not offer it before because it does not reflect well on Jane Fernandes and there was a possibility she might have changed. I do not judge the appropriateness of the leaders' decisions in the school. I believe they were aimed towards obtaining a certain population of Deaf people with the goal of performing educationally-related research. Find better ways to get Deaf people ok with the book larnin' and get jobs. In the process, I feel they took what was special about the school - the things which were most uniquely Deaf and MSSD - away.

This is my experience with her. I have hestitated to write it because it involved a lot of people and it deeply troubled me. I believe my actions enabled people to mobilize and prevent the damage that could have been done by revealing the true nature of the upcoming change in the school. I do not know what Jane Fernandes has planned for Gallaudet University. Again, I do not judge her. If others would like to correlate my experience, I would appreciate it. I would also like to say that there have been good things that have come from her intervention at MSSD. I have personally not felt that these good things have outweighed, to date, the things that were taken away, but this is a matter of perspective. And it is true people do not like change.

UPDATE: I would like to find the truth behind what is best for Gallaudet. From my experience, I feel Ms. Fernandes has some very good ideas, but has a record of conflict. This is not necessarily a bad thing. During her interview, according to Adam Stone on, she was uninspiring, emphasized that Gallaudet should not be a place people come to socialize but instead study, and talked about fundraising. She mentioned a grant from the National Science Foundation. These are very important points.

It is also important that Gallaudet be a team. She appears to be trying to speak to students on a daily basis by appearing before (often angry) students to answer their questions at rallies (reportedly at 1pm daily.) She does not seem to have much luck responding to their concerns. She does not seem to have made progress towards any kind of dialogue. Neither have I seen the students attempt yet any dialogue. I believe both groups are stubborn enough to stare each other down. I do not think this is going to be productive, for either students or faculty - or Ms. Fernandes. This is an important protest, but the lines are not as clear as before.

I tried in my essay yesterday to articulate why people are opposed to Ms. Fernandes. I believe it is because they want someone with a powerful vision of a positive Deaf future, especially in these difficult times. Ms. Fernandes has presented as uninspiring even to her most ardent supporters. The problem is Deaf people really don't know what to get inspired by. They know what they don't want, but beyond a Deaf person, there isn't much detail. I think both sides need to work on communication right now. But I worry it's too late to do any good. With both faculty and students seemingly against her, what can Ms. Fernandes do to up the ante and unify the University?


rayni said...

Don't you remember.... MSSD felt like prison. I'm not sure if it was all jane's fault but I remember her as a pleasant yet uncomfortable woman. More to come, still gathering my thoughts....

Jt said...

Agreed; stalemate.

Joseph Rainmound said...

MSSD became more and more like a prison until the day we left. I was NEVER happy there. Rayni, I just read a poem this morning in a book:
Where had we beem, we two, beloved Friend
If in the season of unperilous choice,
in lieu of wandering, as we did, through vales...
We had been followed, hourly watched, and noosed,
Each in his several melancholy walk,
Stringed like a poor man's heifer at its feed,
Led through the lanes in forlorn servitude.

That was by Wordsworth and it basically means "Suppose we were young and were forced to go to school and were supervised and made to walk where they wanted us to instead of wandering through the woods and learning what we wished? Life would really suck."

And so it did.

arly said...

what a lesson for you to learn at the tender age of 16..MSSD certainly did change drastically after I graduated and in such a short time..whee!

Agree with is a stalemate and hopefully someone will make a step towards the unity for Gallaudet