- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 26, 2006

More than a dozen Gallaudet University students organized a sit-in outside the office of President I. King Jordan yesterday as part of their ongoing protest against incoming President Jane K. Fernandes.

The sit-in, which took place on the second-floor hallway at College Hall and included members of the women’s volleyball team, lasted for about four hours and was conducted without incident.

Campus police would not allow reporters to interview the protesters. A glance into the hall revealed the protesters sitting on the floor along the walls and conversing in sign language. Many were eating lunch.

The sit-in came almost three weeks after students came out in force to protest Mrs. Fernandes’ appointment. Mrs. Fernandes is set to take over the post in January when Mr. Jordan leaves.

The students say a lack of diversity among the candidates and Mrs. Fernandes’ unresponsiveness to their needs and concerns are among their major complaints.

The school’s board of trustees appointed Mrs. Fernandes last spring, and shortly after, students began to protest.

The protests stopped during summer break but resumed this fall and included a student takeover Oct. 5 of Hall Memorial Building, where many classes are held. After bomb threats forced them from the building, they began blocking school entrances earlier this month.

More than 130 student protesters were arrested a few days later after they were given several warnings to stop blocking a side entrance to the school, the country’s only liberal arts university for the deaf and hearing impaired.

Last week, a majority of the school’s faculty voted that Mrs. Fernandes should resign or be removed from the post.

Because of the protests, which have disrupted some classes, the board of trustees is expected to meet Sunday and review the selection of Mrs. Fernandes.

The protests at Gallaudet have had little effect on residents who live near the 98-acre campus in Northeast. Most knew or cared little about the protests. Others said yesterday that the situation must be resolved soon.

“I think it’s a sad situation. It’s too bad [the students and university officials] can’t come together,” said Keith W. Legall, of Sixth Street Northeast, a few blocks from campus. “I’ve never seen that happen at that school before. I think that president should resign.”

Linwood Grigsby, 66, who is retired from Georgetown University’s special events department and now operates a liquor store two blocks away from Gallaudet, said he favors student involvement.

“They don’t believe she can relate to them. I believe they’re right, that she should understand them,” he said. “As a student, they should have a right to choose who should be their president.”

Delilah Criswell of Bates Street Northeast disagreed.

“It’s not a popularity contest,” she said. “Students are just learning. They cannot know what a college president must know to operate and manage a higher education institution.”

On campus, the white tent where the students on a hunger strike sit at the Florida Avenue entrance remained the most visible sign of the protest. But the protesters, some of whom spent their 13th day on a liquid diet, are declining in numbers.

Larry Vollmar, a 1970 Gallaudet graduate, said two protesters left because they needed to go to class to keep up their grades.

Debbie Potts, 36, a graduate student from Chicago, maintained her opposition to Mrs. Fernandes.

“You can’t have a president who doesn’t answer to students’ needs,” she said. “Students in the hunger strike are willing to die until she is out.”

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