- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 8, 2006

Gallaudet students and administrators met throughout yesterday in a building they took over Thursday night, communication they hoped would help resolve their objections to incoming President Jane K. Fernandes.

“After she was selected, her leadership still came into question,” Leha Katz Hernandez, 19, said through a sign-language interpreter. “She has proved she cannot lead us,” said Miss Hernandez, a sophomore at the nation’s only four-year liberal arts institution specializing in educating the deaf and the hearing-impaired.

The standoff — the students’ latest effort to oust Mrs. Fernandes — began Thursday night when more than 200 students gathered inside Hall Memorial Building after the administration refused their requests to reopen the search process, which concluded in the spring.

The students set up human blockades and tents at entrances and were taking turns guarding the doors.

The meeting between student leaders and university officials they allowed inside began at noon yesterday and continued into the night.

Students said the dean of student affairs and the interim provost were representing the administration. The school Web site identifies Carl A. Pramuk as the dean and Michael L. Moore as the provost.

Students continued to eat, sleep and essentially live inside the building, which consists mostly of classrooms for the school’s roughly 1,800 students.

Miss Hernandez said the Student Body Government made the decision to take over the building. The group’s president, Noah Beckman, participated in the meeting yesterday.

Other students at the school said 67 percent of the faculty also disapproved of the selection of Mrs. Fernandes.

Students said that the three white candidates represented a lack of diversity, and that one did not have a doctorate degree. A black man with a doctorate would have been a strong candidate but was not even considered, they said.

“This is basically a culmination of disagreement over a long period of years,” said Miss Hernandez, a Maryland native. “We have had enough.”

She said Mrs. Fernandes, who had been a provost at the university for six years and president-elect since May, has done “nothing to gain our confidence.”

The students also criticized the administration’s handling of the dispute.

“University spokespersons have distributed misinformation and that interfered,” Miss Hernandez said.

Students clashed with campus police Friday night. Officers attempting to enter the building hit, choked and pepper-sprayed students, Miss Hernandez said.

Officials for the university on Florida Avenue Northeast said the officers attempted to clear the building because of a bomb threat but denied pepper spray was used.

“The students wouldn’t let them in, and they were making it really difficult just for the officers to move around,” said Gallaudet spokeswoman Mercy Coogan. “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 the building after they learned of the bomb threat.

Ms. Coogan also suggested that D.C.police might be called eventually to resolve the standoff.

“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,” she said Friday night.

Three city police patrol cars were parked outside the university’s Department of Public Safety while officers and university officials discussed whether to forcibly remove the students.

Mrs. Fernandes was selected last spring to replace outgoing President I. King Jordan, the 142-year-old school’s first deaf president.

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

Students said one of the first indications of a problem was 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 only the board of trustees can choose a new president, and that the faculty and students do not get to vote.

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

“Deaf politics was never the issue,” Miss Hernandez said. “Jane Fernandes severely divided the university. It creates confusion about the protest itself. Because Gallaudet had willfully distorted the process, that is further evidence that she cannot lead and design. We care very deeply for the university and that is why we are protesting.”

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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