Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tuesday Morning News and Coffee Roundup

Most Deaf people have heard about the protests at Gallaudet in the face of the selection of Jane K. Fernandes by the Board of Trustees for the next President of Gallaudet University. As I said to Ridor last night, whatever the problems with Ms. Fernandes personally, the fact is hundreds of students and faculty seem to feel there is a problem, and their concerns were not addressed. This seems to me to be a far bigger problem than whoever the President of the University is, that there is such feeling behind this situation and these feelings aren't officially dealt with, except to tell those who feel as they do that they shouldn't worry.

I was also greatly disturbed to see someone actually ARRESTED. A former student decided to stand up and suggest people meet outside for a protest. This is oppression of freedom of speech however you put it - and reminds me of the woman removed from a Bush audience for wearing an anti-Republican t-shirt. Granted, this student is a well-known activist - we need more of them. Perhaps a true leader would have invited Mr. Commerson up on the stage to air his feelings. Perhaps they might have admitted to making mistakes in the past, and learning from them.

I don't have a solution or suggestion, oddly enough. I just think its sad that things got to this point, and I wonder who is showing leadership right now.

In other news, Scotland is fighting to improve employment conditions for their Deaf citizens.

Update: I'm sorry, this is hilarious.
She continued on, stressing that she would work to improve relations with students over the next eight months -- the transition period before Jordan steps down -- and that they would get to know a new Jane Fernandes. The role of provost is very different from the role of president, she said afterward.

She said it will be hard to follow Jordan. "I'm more of a quiet leader," she said. "Quiet but effective -- I have a different style."

She said a priority will be forging unity. "Because we have so many different aspects of the deaf community," different ways of communicating, different backgrounds and different priorities, "we need Gallaudet to pull all of these together. I think I can help to do that."

And, she added, "it's important for me to clearly say that I see ASL as the fabric that holds together Gallaudet's diverse community. So Gallaudet will always be a signing university. We will always use visual communication. We will always use that."

A few points:
1. People will get to know this "new" person and hope that the "new" qualities will be appropriate for this job; they haven't seen these qualities for six years? I don't think this is a fair response. Shouldn't it be her responsibility to demonstrate these qualities before she's offered the position?

2. She wants to unify the Deaf community - a great goal, and one I support - but how is this accomplished by arresting people who are upset with her appointment instead of engaging them in dialogue? Ms. Fernandes, please take ADVANTAGE of future such opportunities. Imagine if you had welcomed Mr. Commerson, complimented his activism, and asked him point-blank to clarify his opposition to your appointment - and rebutted his concerns. True, of course: you did not have to do that. Leaders lead; administrators wait for the proper time to sign the chitties.

3. "We will always use visual communication?" Uh, I hope so. I didn't realize this was an option on the table - taking visual communication away. I had NO idea the President of Gallaudet University had the power to blind me and still my ability to communicate. Next I expect she will say that grass will always be green, or hens will always lay eggs.

I hope this silliness is on the part of the paper, not the woman - I expect it is. So far all the criticism I have heard of Fernandes revolve around the fact that she's too strict and didn't grow up signing. I am both so I do not oppose these qualities! But Deaf people need to make a more coherent defense if they want to succeed in this protest. DPN had clearly delineated goals. I don't see anything clearly delineated except the amount of vitriol for Fernandes - something making me sympathize with her. How can she defend herself against uninformed hate?

From what I've read it seems the students sort of want this:
1. A person who GREW UP signing ASL (a fully culturally Deaf person) selected as President of the University. (I'm against this. It's just a form of reverse discrimination.)
2. A person who will declare support for one method of education. Deaf education has traditionally been divided between various camps - oralism, simcom, bibi, etc. So far the most successful programs have been the ones which have used signed languages. However, since oralists (ahem) have the ear of people with money, their programs tend to get the most funds - and the miracle of making someone speak, or seem to, and hear, or seem to, still attracts a lot of support. In the face of the high implantation rate of Deaf children, it is understandable that Deaf people seek an affirmation of their culture and language. Mr. Commerson's protest is very very understandable in this light.
3. A person who will be like the students themselves, and unite the students. This is indispensible for the coming generation. We need to accept that the Deaf nation has MANY tribes - and only by uniting the tribes can we really plan and prepare for the future.

What students need to do is organize and learn to codify their needs and demands in acceptable language. It can't be simple complaining that someone is too strict. The world is watching.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The biggest thing for me is that she has been provost for *six* years and she has not shown charisma or ability to talk to people, which I think should be an important qualification for the president of gallaudet university. Whether s/he likes it or not, the president (probably as a result of DPN protest of 1988) is a major representative of the Deaf community. This is where the president differs from any other university president. In addition to this, ability to build bridges with the US congress, other important financial sources, and have a good relationship with the faculty, staff, and student body are all very important skills that the university president needs to have. I can see that Jane Fernandes's work experience and skills clearly qualifies her for the job, but I have bigger concern on her persona and how she plans to win over the gallaudet community, as well as the rest of the Deaf community.

I am not sure what I'm feeling about the protest itself - I think it needs to be better organized and cohesive. I think the best test is to see what is happening in the next couple of days, and see Jane's response, as well as the meeting between SBG and the BoT today.

Any other thoughts?