ON HAND: Next Gallaudet president

This originally appeared in The Tactile Mind Weekly in Trudy’s ON HAND column. This issue featured a “topic issue” with articles answering this question: Who Should the Next President of Gallaudet Be?

The ideal Gallaudet president, for me, must have firsthand knowledge about the university’s impact upon the deaf community–as a child, as a student, and as an adult.

Here’s what I mean by that. I grew up often browsing through my parents’ Gallaudet yearbooks, wondering about the stories of the people in the photos. I had people constantly telling me about their experiences at Gallaudet. I heard so many rumors–both good and bad–about what life was like at Gallaudet. But I always knew Gallaudet existed, and I’ve long understood its impact upon us as a whole. Bottom line: I grew up with Gallaudet in my life.

I. King Jordan, the current president, became deaf in his 20s, and didn’t have any clue about Gallaudet’s existence until after he became deaf. He isn’t a product of any educational system as a deaf student–he doesn’t really know firsthand the struggles a deaf student often goes through with teachers’ lousy signing or low expectation. In fact, it’s been printed that he calls himself a hearing person who has a hearing loss. In fact, a recent article on Jordan reports, “Asked how he responds to critics who say he’ll never really understand Deafness, Jordan shrugged and said, ‘They’re right.'”

I believe that Jordan’s lack of childhood knowledge about Gallaudet is why he has struggled so much in maintaining student support in many areas. Certainly, he’s done a lot for the university in terms of fundraising and maintaining relationships with Congress and hearing people, and he certainly is a nice fellow. But students’ and alumni’s mistrust of the administration is at an all-time high. Even I find myself astounded by the choices some of the administration has made, especially within the past decade.

For instance, when I edited Silent News, I decided to run a story on a department’s decision to close down (or “merge”) a major. I contacted that department to get an official statement. Their response? The acting dean (who was hearing), threatened me with a lawsuit, even though it was hardly a blockbuster story. What were they afraid of? When I shared this with a deaf administrator, he said, “Nothing new. Welcome to the world of Gallaudet administration.”

While it’s true that this separation between administration and students is common at many universities, I don’t think it should exist at Gallaudet, given the size of the school and the close-knitted nature of the community. Gallaudet is a pillar of the deaf community, whether we want it to be or not.

The next Gallaudet president has to have an in-depth understanding and firsthand experience of being a deaf person–not a late-deafened person, but having grown up deaf from childhood to adulthood. S/he also has to have a true appreciation of Gallaudet’s importance to the community. Hiring a president who truly gets it is the only way the university can win back the trust of alumni and students.

NOTE: The article about Jordan can be found at
http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1364

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