Wednesday, October 11, 2006

A Gallaudet University group emerged yesterday to oppose the closing of the campus in protest of the appointment of Jane K. Fernandes as the next president.

Concerned Students of Gallaudet University, which includes faculty and staff, insisted that protesters allow a return to classrooms.

“We are not opposed to anybody,” said Margaret Vitullo, chairwoman of the school’s sociology department and organizer of the group. “We stand for education. College students supporting this protest are denying education for other college students. This morning, they began denying education for kindergartners.”

The Northeast campus serves deaf students from preschool through college.

Gallaudet’s board of trustees appointed Mrs. Fernandes in May. She is scheduled to become university president in January.

Students opposed to the choice heightened their protests Thursday by seizing Hall Memorial Building, where many classes are held. About 200 students were involved, and some faculty and staff members joined the protest.

At about 4 a.m. yesterday, protesters began preventing faculty, teachers and administrative staff from entering the campus.

They said the protests will not end until Mrs. Fernandes resigns or the board rescinds the appointment. They also are demanding a replacement of the 21-member board and no punishment for protesters.

About 45 faculty members supported those demands, except for the board’s replacement.

Students have criticized outgoing President I. King Jordan for a slow response to the crisis.

Administration spokeswoman Mercy Coogan said Mr. Jordan has tried repeatedly to meet with the protest leaders and yesterday offered to meet alone with Mark Weinberg, chairman of University Faculty, outside the main gate on Florida Avenue Northeast.

Mr. Weinberg rejected the offer, saying the meeting needs to be open and the faculty needs to meet with Mr. Jordan.

Many protesters demanded that Mrs. Fernandes come to the scene.

“The only person who can convince the students to accept Jane is Jane,” one student said.

Gallaudet students have long criticized the hiring process, saying candidates lacked diversity.

In March 1988, students opposed the appointment of Elisabeth A. Zinser, an assistant chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

They argued that two of the three finalists for the presidency were deaf, but the board chose the lone hearing candidate.

Seven days of protests included blockades and a march on Capitol Hill that attracted national attention. As a result, Mrs. Zinser resigned and the board hired Mr. Jordan, the first deaf president in the school’s 142-year history.

Concerned Students of Gallaudet University met yesterday morning at the school entrance on West Virginia Avenue Northeast, collecting signatures on petitions to reopen the campus.

Mrs. Vitullo said the members are not united on the selection of Mrs. Fernandes, but they agree that the protests are interfering with students at a nursery school and classes at elementary, middle and high schools, as well as the university.

She said more than 150 petitions had been circulated and that many were signed anonymously.

“They are afraid,” Mrs. Vitullo said. “They are being threatened by other students.”

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