- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 9, 2006

The faculty of Gallaudet University yesterday stood against the school’s board of trustees by delivering a vote of no-confidence in Provost Jane K. Fernandes on her elevation to president of the only U.S. liberal arts college for deaf students.

The dispute centers on whether she is “deaf enough” for the job.

Mrs. Fernandes was born deaf but grew up speaking and did not learn American Sign Language (ASL) until she was 23. Sign language is the preferred way of communicating at 1,900-student Gallaudet.

“The board has caused a huge mess on campus,” said Jeff Lewis, a psychologist representing the Coalition of Faculty, Students, Staff and Alumni (FSSA).

Among a series of nonbinding resolutions that began yesterday afternoon, the faculty rejected the selection of Mrs. Fernandes, said she should remove herself from the presidential selection process, and called for a renewal in the search for a new president, scheduled to take control in January.

“There’s a kind of perfect deaf person,” said Mrs. Fernandes, who described that as someone who is born deaf to deaf parents, learns ASL at home, attends deaf schools, marries a deaf person and has deaf children. “People like that will remain the core of the university.”

Mrs. Fernandes is married to a retired Gallaudet professor who can hear. So can the couple’s two children.

Despite the no-confidence vote, which passed 93-43, the board of trustees has said it will not change its decision to have Mrs. Fernandes succeed I. King Jordan, the university’s first deaf president, who was appointed in 1988.

Mrs. Fernandes, 47, provost for the last six years of her 11-year tenure at Gallaudet, was chosen by the trustees last week from three candidates.

The selection process began in October after Mr. Jordan announced plans to retire in December 2006. He named a selection committee, which considered 22 applicants for the presidency before narrowing the field to six finalists. The 15 trustees then reduced the list to three candidates — each of them deaf — including one woman, Mrs. Fernandes.

The school term ended last week but hundreds of students remain on campus in tents and rain shelters near the entrance at 800 Florida Ave. NE. Protesters, noting that all the finalists were white, said they want officials and rules that implement diversity, multicultural studies, fairness and unity. Numerous students wore black and orange T-shirts with the words, “Unity for Gallaudet,” “Diversity for Gallaudet.”

“At this point, we feel there are faults,” said Martina J. Bienvenu, chairman of the Department of American Sign Language and Deaf Studies. “We will remain very clear with the board and we will be consistent. We will stick with it if the board doesn’t change.”

There was a morning meeting yesterday of representatives of faculty, staff and alumni, which echoed complaints of disunity and lack of cultural mix. Eleven FSSA members met with two board members for 90 minutes in what was called a frank, open and honest meeting. The board members expressed full support for the FSSA, said Anthony T. Mowl, 21, a student and FSSA spokesman.

“She has not won us over in six years. She does not make a good first impression,” said Mr. Mowl, 21, an English major from Fishers, Ind.

“The selection was not equitable,” said Cheryl Wu, faculty member of the Department of Counseling, after the FSSA meeting. “Students and faculty should have a voice. Re-open the process. The process was wrong.”

“As expected, however, we have not made any progress in regard to re-opening the search process. We will continue to push this demand, and we will not relent until they are met,” Mr. Mowl said.

Gallaudet has 220 faculty members and about 1,900 deaf students.

Teachers were to complete final grades by 4:30 p.m. yesterday, and senior graduation ceremonies are scheduled for Friday.

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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