- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Students blocked the front gate at Gallaudet University yesterday to protest the appointment of Jane K. Fernandes as the next president of the school for the deaf.

University trustees announced Monday that Mrs. Fernandes would replace I. King Jordan when he steps down in January.

Mr. Jordan made history 18 years ago when he was appointed president after student protesters demanded a deaf president for the school.

Mrs. Fernandes, who has been at Gallaudet for 11 years and served as provost since 2000, was met with protests and booing just moments after the announcement. Much of the criticism centered on personality, with some saying she is cold and condescending.

“She doesn’t say ‘hi,’” one student’s poster read, along with, “Better president now.”

That slogan harkens back to 1988, when students marched to the White House and the Capitol demanding a “Deaf President Now” for the nation’s only college for the deaf and starting a civil rights movement.

Intense interest was generated at the 141-year-old school after Mr. Jordan, the university’s first deaf president, announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the year.

Students said they prefer Ronald J. Stern, superintendent and chief executive of the New Mexico School for the Deaf, or Stephen F. Weiner, an associate professor and former dean at Gallaudet.

But Mrs. Fernandes’ supporters point to her strong credentials among the three finalists.

For the first time in the school’s history, all the finalists were deaf, and many said that was cause for celebration.

“We made history once again,” interim board Chairman Celia May Baldwin said, “because for the first time we have had open discussions and even debates on campus” about which deaf person could best lead Gallaudet.

Some of the more than 200 protesters Monday night said they don’t like Mrs. Fernandes because she is too strict. Some questioned whether she could be a strong advocate for the school.

“Can she lead a university that represents deaf people to the world?” said Jesse Thomas, a junior from Philadelphia. “I don’t think so.”

After her introduction, Mrs. Fernandes said it will be hard to follow Mr. Jordan. “I’m more of a quiet leader,” she said. “Quiet but effective — I have a different style.”

She said she would work to unite the university and improve relations with students over the next eight months before Mr. Jordan steps down.

She said American Sign Language would be a uniting force that “holds together Gallaudet’s diverse community. So Gallaudet will always be a signing university. We will always use visual communication.”

In an e-mail, Mr. Jordan wrote that the board would not revisit its decision and added his endorsement of Mrs. Fernandes’ experience as an administrator and scholar.

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