Protests 1,000 miles away have local ties

This article originally appeared in the Faribault Daily News, Faribault, MN.

FARIBAULT – More than 1,000 miles away from Faribault, protests at Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal arts university for deaf people, in Washington, D.C., have been of keen interest to local residents.

When Dr. Jane K. Fernandes, a deaf woman, was chosen as the university’s ninth president, protests erupted on campus in May and again this month. Students and faculty shut down the school’s main academic building and blocked entry to the campus before being arrested.

The protests stem from claims that the presidential search process was flawed, and faculty, staff, students and alumni have pointed to Dr. Fernandes’ turbulent track record as provost and drastic drops in academic achievements during her administration. On Monday, 82 percent of the faculty voted that Dr. Fernandes resign as president or be removed; last spring, 68 percent of the faculty voted no confidence in Dr. Fernandes. Current university president Dr. I. King Jordan has insisted that the president-select will not step down.

Faribault has a large number of Gallaudet alumni and prospective students who have kept a close eye on the events in Washington.

“I support the protest because Gallaudet needs a capable leader. Jane Fernandes has proven she cannot lead,” said Bobby Siebert, a senior at MSAD. “When the protest first started, it took maybe more than a week before Jane came in contact with the protestors. She didn’t take action and preferred to talk with the media instead. What kind of leader is that?”

His sister, Amy, is a MSAD graduate and a freshman at the university.

“There are so many reasons the protests are happening. The process in selecting the next president was flawed,” she said, referring to objections that the selection process was rushed and unreasonable. “The protest has been going on for a long time. This is pretty frustrating. And Jane has done nothing. This is not something a president would do.” The Sieberts’ parents are also graduates of the university.

One week ago, upon Dr. Jordan’s orders, 135 protesters were arrested, including several Minnesotans, such as Priscilla Saunders’ sister. Saunders, a Gallaudet alumna whose 5-year-old son is seventh-generation deaf and attends MSAD, said, “My sister asked me first if she should join the people getting arrested, and I told her it wasn’t a good idea but the more people I knew who were getting arrested, I then encouraged her to be involved. When she was bailed out, she e-mailed me saying it was worth it. My heart was set on attending Gallaudet since I was three, four years old. Now my heart’s aching on how the president and the upcoming president have been handling this situation.”

The mother of three deaf children and a Gallaudet graduate herself, Lisa Skjeveland explained the impact of the protests. “Gallaudet University is part of our Deaf community and we have the duty to help protect the futures of our deaf children. Gallaudet was and is still very much part of my life. It has opened up a world of friends and connections with many bright deaf people.”

Bobby Siebert added, “Gallaudet has a major impact upon MSAD. Some of our students aspire to be future Gallaudet students, and many teachers and faculty members are Gallaudet alumni. So much of the Faribault community has ties to Gallaudet. I admit I do feel uneasy. Gallaudet’s my future college, and to have its future in doubt frightens me. Still, I feel that the protest’s cause is justified and I want it to continue until we find better leaders at Gallaudet.”

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