- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 12, 2006

Students at the District’s Gallaudet University blocked campus entrances for a second straight day, protesting an incoming president they say does not have the skills to lead the nation’s only liberal arts university for the deaf and hearing impaired.

The standoff continued today despite pleas from some faculty members, who approached students and urged them to move their demonstrations to a lawn in the center of campus, fearing they otherwise risked being arrested by police.

But students refused, saying they feared the administration would reopen Gallaudet and pretend to go about business as usual.

The blockade began about 3 a.m. Wednesday. Today, about 200 students protested at the front gate. As the day wore on, students linked arms, forming a human chain across the main entrance to campus. About 10 District of Columbia police officers looked on from across the street.

“I’m not intimidated at all,” said Matt Malzkohn, 26, a graduate student from Los Angeles. “We’ve had enough.”

The students say they will not let the school reopen unless the presidential search process is reopened. It remains unclear whether university officials will try to move them.

“Of course, we never want to use force,” said university spokeswoman Mercy Coogan. “We hope to do this peacefully.”

The protests began last spring when then-Provost Jane K. Fernandes was appointed president by the school’s board of trustees. She is scheduled to take over for President I. King Jordan in January.

Jordan spoke to students Thursday afternoon, telling them that D.C. Assistant Police Chief Gerald Wilson hoped to meet with leaders of the protest in hopes of resolving the standoff.

“I want to make sure no one is hurt,” Jordan said.

Students intensified their protests on Oct. 5, when they took over Gallaudet’s main classroom building - an occupation that was marred by complaints about rough actions by campus police.

Since then, the protests have escalated, with students blocking campus gates, forcing school officials to move or cancel classes.

The reasons behind the protest vary. Some students and faculty have said they felt shut out of the selection process for the next president, and that Fernandes is a stubborn leader who isn’t open to different points of view.

Some also felt that the board of trustees had little contact with a diverse student body and that the presidential finalists did not reflect that diversity.

“They have no idea who we are,” LaToya Plummer, 25, a junior from Suitland, Md., said of the board, signing her comments through an interpreter.

Fernandes has said some people do not consider her “deaf enough” to be president. She was born deaf but grew up speaking and did not learn American Sign Language until she was 23.

“I feel that this institution cannot move forward under Dr. Fernandes’ leadership because there are too many disagreements about her as a leader,” said Mark Weinberger, a professor of foreign languages at Gallaudet and also chair of the faculty’s Senate.

The school has about 1,800 undergraduate and graduate students.


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