When the trustees of Gallaudet University on Oct. 29 withdrew their appointment of Jane Fernandes as the next president of the 152-year-old school for the deaf, many thought the university’s problems had been solved.
The decision to retract the appointment was the result of cooperation between students and faculty through months of protests that included stakeouts and the commandeering of university buildings by the Gallaudet United Now Movement, which was organized to oust the appointee.
The events since the termination of Fernandes’s appointment have shown that Gallaudet has problems more serious than student frustration with a particular person.
A week after the trustees voted to dismiss Fernandes, Sen. John McCain and Brenda Jo Brueggemann, chair of the trustee board, resigned from their positions as trustees in protest. Their primary reason for leaving the board was the situation involving the presidency.
Not only was Fernandes appointment as president designate terminated, but she is also no longer the provost for the school. Michael Moore is now serving as interim provost.
I. King Jordan, who has been Gallaudet’s president since 1988, is retiring from the presidency on Dec. 31, and no one has been nominated as replacement.
At the beginning of 2007, Gallaudet may not have a president, the interim provost will have held his position for only two months, and there may be other changes in the trustee board.
Gallaudet’s problems in leadership may have only just begun.
And when problems at the school seemed at their worst, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) announced that Gallaudet is failing to meet financial goals and showing declining performance in some areas.
Two-thirds of the university’s budget comes from federal funding. The OMB said that $108 million in annual federal funding was used ineffectively and that the school needs close supervision.
The monitoring is to extend beyond financial spending.
Members of the faculty and staff allege that they were asked by university administrators to change the grades of several students who were failing courses. They support their accusations with internal documents and interviews.
The board of trustees has received reports from faculty that Gallaudet is accepting and admitting students with low academic skills in areas including mathematics and English.
Faculty members reported to the board last year that some students cannot read English well enough to understand a basic story in a newspaper, and that some students cannot do basic arithmetic without calculators.
Faculty members fear that the administration is desperate for students. According to Gallaudet faculty chair Mark Weinberg, the faculty feels the school will accept almost anyone to attend, even if they do not have the skills academically or are underprepared or unprepared for college.
The Washington Post reported on Nov. 9 that five students who had failed a remedial math course complained to the dean of the College of Liberal Arts, Sciences and Technologies, Karen Kimmel.
After a series of e-mails with members of the math department, Kimmel wrote “I ask you to pass these students” in one message.
Faculty reported this to higher administration, including Fernandes, who was provost at the time. She responded by saying that grade changes or readmissions were rare and addressed the specific needs of students in particular situations.
In a letter published in the Washington Post Nov. 18, Kimmel said that English is a second or third language for many Gallaudet students and that only 29 percent of the language is visible on the lips.
“Many schools do not provide students with interpreters,” said Kimmel. In some cases, she said, students do not get instruction with interpreters at all.
“In some schools, deaf and hard-of-hearing students are waived from math courses because it is deemed to be too expensive to provide an interpreter or qualified math instruction,” Kimmel wrote.
While Kimmel’s argument provides reasoning behind the low mathematics comprehension of some students, grades appear to have been changed under pressure from administrators and encouragement by Kimmel, the Washington Post found.