- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

Student protesters at Gallaudet University who have blockaded the campus for days agreed last night to open a secondary entrance to avoid a clash with police.

The group’s decision to remove cars and unlink their human chain along the Sixth Street Northeast entrance was the minimum concession to avoid being arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department, said Matt Malzkuhn, a graduate student.

But others on the blockade refused to budge, and all entrances remained closed last night.

“The campus remains closed and will remain closed all day tomorrow, I assume,” Diane Morton, a faculty member who supports the protesters, said last night.

Police had continued to add officers and equipment throughout the day, bringing in as many as 30 officers, 18 motorcycles and at least four horses.

Despite the attempted concession, the protesters said they have not backed off from their demands that President-elect Jane K. Fernandes resign.

“We’ll still be here,” said Latoya Plummer, a student leader of the protests, which started this semester on the night of Oct. 5, when students took over Hall Memorial Building, where many classes are held. “We’ll still be protesting until they meet our demands.”

School officials also were not satisfied with the concession.

“Right now, it doesn’t look like this is going to be a big difference,” said Mercy Coogan, a university spokeswoman.

The Board of Trustees at Gallaudet, the country’s largest school for the deaf, selected Mrs. Fernandes in May. Protests followed until summer break, including objections from 67 percent of the faculty. The protesters say there was a lack of diversity among the finalists in the selection process. Mrs. Fernandes, who is deaf, say some people think she is not deaf enough.

Gallaudet students engaged in similar arguments and protests in 1988, until the board hired I. King Jordan, who became the first deaf president at the 142-year-old university.

Students blocked six campus gates Wednesday, which closed all classes in the university, a nursery, and elementary, middle and high schools for 2,300 students. The cost for U.S. citizens to attend undergraduate classes and live on campus is $11,359 per semester.

Despite the rancor on campus, some professors conducted classes yesterday through the high steel fence at the West Virginia Avenue gate. The students were inside the fence and instructors outside.

Mr. Jordan spoke briefly yesterday, via sign language, to the hundreds of protesting students and a few faculty members. He was joined by Assistant Police Chief Gerald Wilson.

Mr. Jordan repeatedly has resisted calling the city police but has said students have “broken many laws” and have pushed the administration almost to its limits.

“Dissenters who have repeatedly expressed fears for their safety are, in fact, the same people who have been intimidating and harassing anyone who disagrees with them and their demands,” said Mr. Jordan, who officially will be replaced by Mrs. Fernandes in January.

Students have expressed continuing disenchantment with Mrs. Fernandes.

“She has refused to meet with any students all along,” said Leah Katz-Hernandez, 19, a sophomore. “It’s beyond her ability to bring it to conclusion.”

Mrs. Fernandes said: “I remain committed to becoming the president of Gallaudet University. … If I abandoned my commitment at this point, which I have no intention of doing, it would only become worse for the university, in general, and future boards of trustees and presidents.”

Raphael J. St. Johns, 48, a Gallaudet graduate employed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, said he has known Mrs. Fernandes for nearly 20 years.

“She is very arrogant,” he said. “She has managed to alienate and anger staff, faculty, students, and now alumni.”

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