- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Students and faculty members at Gallaudet University can celebrate that their weeklong protest over the school’s next president has produced its first victim: Celia May Baldwin, the interim head of the board of trustees which unanimously chose Jane K. Fernandes to replace I. King Jordan as president.

Citing “numerous aggressive threats,” Mrs. Baldwin stepped down Tuesday, a decision likely to increase the students’ call for more heads to roll. Were the students angry about something a bit more scandalous than the choice of a deaf Gallaudet veteran to replace its first deaf president, then perhaps resignations would be in order. But they’re not. Mrs. Baldwin, who should not have resigned, is a victim of the mob — a mob Gallaudet professors should be ashamed they helped feed after issuing a “no confidence” vote on Monday night.

That the students and faculty are prejudiced against Mrs. Fernandes is obvious, but hardly a reasonable justification for demanding her to step down. Nor is arguing that her ability to speak fails to meet their arbitrary test of her ability to understand and communicate with the deaf. Strangely, detractors say the fact that Mrs. Fernandes learned to sign at 23 is a black mark on her record. These are the sins for which Mrs. Fernandes, an otherwise fully competent administrator, is being drawn over the coals.

One of the few bright lights in this sorrowful tale has been Mr. Jordan, who seems to have learned a few lessons about identity politics in his years as a university president. As one of Mrs. Fernandes’ strongest supporters, Mr. Jordan has dubbed the phrase “deaf enough” to describe why so many are opposed to his chosen successor. The protests, he said, “are about what it means to be deaf in the 21st century.” Apparently, judging from the students and their professors, that no longer simply means being unable to hear — which was the precise point of the protests that led to Mr. Jordan’s presidency in 1988. To be “deaf enough” one must think of deafness as inclusion into an oppressed minority, with all the political implications such a designation entails.

Nonetheless, deafness is a disability Mrs. Fernandes has lived with all her life, just like many of those who now resent her place atop a world-class university.

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