Monday, October 30, 2006

379: Gallaudet Protest Succeeds: President-Select Terminated

This post was put up on DailyKos. I'd appreciate any comments to improve it. I wanted to try to explain what I saw as clearly as possible to people who don't know the Deaf community.

Sunday, October 29th will go down in history as the day the Gallaudet Board of Trustees terminated the President-Designate of Gallaudet University and accepted two demands of four of the many hundreds of protestors who joined the ranks of Gallaudet's faculty, staff, students and alumni and marched on the nation's capitol 4,000 strong. This has been a long protest, about civil rights, shared governance, and fiduciary duties. Not to mention Earth Juice. Join us as we review what just happened...

Jane Kelleher Fernandes is one of the most controversial people in the Deaf community. The people she's worked with at the University for the past ten years which include the employees at the High School, MSSD, whose students are quoted in this letter where she used to be in charge, the faculty at the school in Hawaii where she formerly worked, have all issued statements opposing the selection of this individual as President of Gallaudet University. A variety of reasons (and a great analysis here) have been stated. They boil down to a history of failure at her previous projects, an arrogant attitude, and a lack of ability to reach out to the students and the community. Shared governance in the university was circumvented twice to allow her promotion. Students, Faculty, Alumni of the University have been protesting since May 2006, unable to trust a search process for President that seemed fixed and had delivered such an inappropriate candidate.

Simultaneously the protest of the search process and Fernandes herself seemed to merge with another and equally powerful protest, a movement which had been building at the University for a few years: to bring full accessibility to the University. Not all the faculty, administration, and very few (one or two) of the Campus Security know American Sign Language. Students have been injured, traumatized, and in one publicized instance killed because of this. Also there has been much research demonstrating that students learn better in a barrier-free environment. Opponents claim Deaf people simply want to retreat into their own world; advocates say the time of higher education should be as free of negative pressure as possible if we want the individual to develop into the most productive citizen possible. Since the President-Select, Jane Fernandes, has stalled in responding to these concerns, labelled under the group heading "Audism," for the last three to four years as Provost, pressure was already at an all-time high. The conjunction of these two issues has led to a huge ballooning of support for the protest in the community in ALL its aspects, from those who use ASL to those who do not.

She originally had quite an amount of support but this eroded quickly as her responses to the protest, including votes of no confidence by the faculty, have grown colder and more authoritarian, to the point of threatening the University's Board of Trustees to obtain support. 135 protestors were arrested. 1,000 protested at the University gates. 4,000 marched on the Capitol. Bulldozers mowed down students although luckily injury was light. It has been a long, strange fight. And now Jane Fernandes has been fired by the Board of Trustees. (See video with responses here.) But it's not over yet. We have at this point simply identified the current face of the problem and removed it.

Were our demands the right demands, as Erfo asks? What went wrong with the appointments of Jordan and Fernandes? How do we avoid these problems in the future? Are reprisals occurring amongst the faculty, as reports of firings spread like wildfire? What criteria do we need in place to ascertain that the leadership of Gallaudet remains uncorrupted and true to the ideals of research and academia? And Deaf academia in particular? What lessons did we learn? Where can we improve? The Audism mandates are, I feel, going to be a big part of this.

Right now, Gallaudet is still a University without a President. And without real leadership I fear that the "healing" people call for cannot happen.

Why did this protest happen now? I argue blogs are a huge reason.

Media Control-and breakthrough

For the last ten years Deaf people have been conspicuously absent from the media. Few Deaf people on TV, in movies, except for Sesame Street (Linda Bove was the first person I saw using American Sign Language.) Deaf Mosaic ended quite a while ago. The Media department at Gallaudet has been closed, and I'm reliably informed Gallaudet has published none of its own books on Deaf research in many years. (At the time of this writing you don't seem to be able to order anything from the Gallaudet bookstore, although the University has its own publishing department.) What this means is that the Deaf community has been closed off, in America, from the mainstream. (Recently Deaf theatre programs and actors have been breaking through, but the government has cut much of those funds. This kind of "closing off" typical of a "gatekeeper" mentality, and indeed over the summer the University put out stringent new rules about the expression of free speech.

Yet in the last year thanks to blogging and to the proliferation of youtube, and all their variants, Deaf people have begun to open the door again. Not only do people like Ridor, Elisa, and MishkaZena shine a light on the corrupt workings of "gatekeeper" administrations by reporting on the ground, we also have analysts like myself, Sandman, the folks at the ASL Community Journal, and writers at DeafDC have all turned into political pundits. There's dozens now, many of them great, too many now for even me to keep up! "Channels" such as DeafRead have brought all these disparate groups together. And hundreds of other voices have come up-I call them the "peanut gallery." An entire constellation of people have joined together into a living and breathing extension of a community. I'm not sure there's been anything like this in the world's history. It's not just blogging and signcasting. We speak to each other on our televisions without even thinking. Our blackberries and sidekicks get free maps to the world and medical dictionaries and anything else we like. Deaf people found a world of our own: the internet. And we've moved in.

At the time of Deaf Way II some, but not all, of this existed. Now it's commonplace. People check continually for the latest news, and while lately the focus has been Gallaudet, the deaf blogosphere is tackling every issue under the sun.

Jane Fernandes said the Deaf community is undergoing revolution. She commented she thought it had to do with herself and whether she was "deaf enough." This is a simplistic and sad view. It is accepted because people push a pathology of Deaf people as ungrateful and talentless. It is true that our Media revolution-the Deaf Blogging Revolution-has a lot in common with the Gallaudet protests in '88. The point of both these revolutions is for us to throw off the "gatekeepers" keeping our community down: we are trying to grow, and they are keeping us from water. It is NOT to build some fantasy-Oz where Deaf people live forever... as if I would leave New York, anyway.

It also symbolizes the American Deaf community's journey to adulthood-into what Dr. Paddy Ladd calls "Deafhood." Remember all of us united thanks to this Media revolution. Deaf, hearing, hard of hearing, CI user, all tribes came together into one Deaf nation, our differences at least partially erased by the Internet. 135 arrested. 9 hunger strikers. 1000 protesting at the University gates. 4000 protesting on the lawn of the Capitol. And Deaf people's blogs were there leading and reporting on everything. No middlemen. No gatekeepers. Just us, dealing with the world on our own terms. Nobody speaking for us.

It's called democracy. And it's kind of sweet.


Anonymous said...

A good explanation of how ASL interpreters create barriers in the classroom is provided here

And, I hate to note it again, but JKF wasn't the only one making the not deaf enough comment. I have a huge list of links to folks who make very nasty, very hurtful comments toward deaf folk who do not sign. I grant you the protest was not about that, but the sentiment is alive and well in the community, or else it would not have been such a potent weapon for JKF to use. Just a thought.

Very nice article.

Anonymous said...

if there were such a thing as poet laureate of the deaf blogosphere, I'd nominate you.

Anonymous said...

beautifully written.

Anonymous said...

i'm gonna use this blog entry to wrap up my discussion assignment about media reconstruction for my class saturday (yes from the Deafhood book). You said it perfectly.

Anonymous said...

The link above where you write "4000 marched" has been changed because Elisa moved her blog.

This is the new link: