- The Washington Times - Friday, October 6, 2006

Protests intensified yesterday at Gallaudet University in response to the selection of a new president, with hundreds of students staging a sit-in inside the main classroom building.

The protests began Thursday at about 10 p.m. when more than 200 students gathered in Hall Memorial Building after the administration would not comply with their requests to reopen the search process that concluded last spring with the hiring of President Jane K. Fernandes. The students set up human blockades and tents to block entrances and have been taking turns guarding the doors.

“We’re going to continue to fight,” said student leader Latoya Plummer. “We’re winning more every day. We’re peacefully fighting.”

Some students are coming in shifts to protest while others have encamped with such necessities as clothing, pillows and sleeping bags.

Administration officials’ attempts to negotiate with students so far have failed.

They had no objection yesterday to protests but said the sit-in is illegal.

“We are hoping that we can resolve it,” said Gallaudet spokeswoman Mercy Coogan. “However, we’re [also] hoping to help them understand the consequences of what it would mean if we brought in D.C. police. We want them to know that it’s one thing if our security people escort them out and they have to go through campus judicial process, and another thing if they are arrested by D.C. police and have that on their permanent record. … They cannot impede access to that building, period.”

Late yesterday afternoon, three Metropolitan Police Department patrol cars were parked outside the university’s Department of Public Safety while officers and university officials discussed the option of forcibly removing the students.

Many students at the university for people who are deaf or hard of hearing say there were flaws in the selection process for Mrs. Fernandes, a former university provost,

Kelby Brick, a Gallaudet graduate who is deaf and now a lawyer in Maryland, said the students are performing an act of civil disobedience.

Mr. Brick said he is not advising the students on legal issues but they have two legal advisers in the building with them.

The students sought legal help because campus police officers attempted to enter the building, then hit, choked and pepper-sprayed them, said student Leah Katz.

Officials for the university, in Northeast, said the officers attempted to clear the building because of a bomb threat, but disputed the accusations about pepper spray.

“The students wouldn’t let them in, and they were making it really difficult just for the officers to move around,” Ms. Coogan said. “But no one was harmed or hurt in any way. If in the process of that a little shoving went on, then I think it was on both sides.”

The students said an officer was allowed inside after they learned of the bomb threat.

The protests began last spring when Mrs. Fernandes was selected to replace outgoing President I. King Jordan.

Two days after her selection, the students formed a group known as FSSA — or Faculty, Students, Staff, Alumni — to call for the reopening of the selection process.

Students said one of the first indications came when Mr. Jordan announced his retirement and accidentally named Mrs. Fernandes as president.

The faculty gave Mrs. Fernandes a vote of no confidence in May.

Ms. Coogan said a new president is chosen by the board of trustees only, and that the faculty and students do not get to vote.

Despite the opposition, the 21-member board upheld its decision yesterday in its last meeting before Mrs. Fernandes takes office in January.

Students now say Mrs. Fernandes has failed to unify or lead the university.

This article is based in part on wire service reports

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