The governing board of Gallaudet University this Sunday (Oct. 29) retracted its appointment of incoming president Jane K. Fernandes in response to months of protests by students and faculty that culminated in a days-long standoff with administrators.
The decision was greeted with cheers from students and other protesters. One group shredded a large effigy of Fernandes and set it on fire, according to a Washington Post report.
Last fall, current president I. King Jordan announced his intent to retire as president of the nation’s premier college for the deaf at the end of this year.
The May 2006 appointment of university provost Jane Fernandes as Jordan’s successor immediately sparked protests. Students contending that Fernandes was out of touch with the deaf community pointed out that she had not learned American Sign Language until after college. They also took issue with her character, leadership abilities and policies.
Protests were put on hold for most of the summer, but they resumed with the academic year. Tent villages were set up near campus entrances, which became sites of repeated rallies.
Students started the standoff on Oct. 5, when they occupied Hall Memorial Building, one of Gallaudet’s main academic buildings. Protesters camped out in the building, leading to delays and the eventual cancellation of classes.
University president Jordan issued an ultimatum on Oct. 13, after the campus had been shut down for three days by the protests: students had to end their demonstration or they would face arrest.
At 9 p.m. that night, Gallaudet campus police began arresting students.
133 arrests were made that night.
But the arrests sparked even bigger rallies, including one of about 1000 protesters the next day.
Student protesters took over the school’s main administration building on Tuesday, Oct. 23, chaining the doors closed and setting up camp in and around the building.
School officials responded the following day by hiring a large construction truck to drive through a tent city that had been erected near a university entrance. A few students suffered minor injuries.
Some participants viewed the drive-through as a violent attack by the university on a peaceful protest. Protesters used their vehicles to barricade the entrance, which was reopened for access on-foot Oct. 16.
Fernandes was born deaf, but was raised in an oral education program. She did not learn sign language until her 20s, when she decided to become more involved in the deaf community.
Fernandes was given a vote of no-confidence in a meeting attended by 168 of the 221 faculty members, the largest turnout ever for such a meeting at Gallaudet. They voted 82 percent to 18 percent that Fernandes resign as president or be removed.
The Gallaudet protests had similarities to a movement at the school to appoint a deaf president in the late 1980s. Many of the university’s previous presidents had the ability to hear, but protests by students, faculty and alumni for one week in 1988 led to Jordan’s appointment.