Dr. Robert E. Johnson’s letter – Text version

After some complaints from readers that their computers could not read .pdf files, I have decided to post the entire 17 page letter here. This is a long post, but vitally important that you read.

An Open Letter To My Faculty and Student Colleagues and to the Board of


I have been advised by several colleagues to provide this roadmap to
the following open letter. I invite you to forward it to other
interested parties who may not be on my list.

· *Complex Truths and Simple Lies.* I argue that the image of the
protest and of Gallaudet is being constructed through a pattern of
simple lies put forth by the PR Office [Public Relations Office].

· *A Crisis of Leadership.* I argue that the crisis results from a
refusal by the Board, the President and the President Elect to take a
role of leadership.

· *The Board of Trustees.* I argue that the Board has neglected its
fiduciary responsibility and that it has been disinformed, misinformed,
and managed by Dr. Jordan’s administration.

· *Dr. Jordan.* I address examples of the ways in which Dr. Jordan
has refused to take a leadership role and the ways in which he has
constructed the protest as the violent acts of a rowdy minority. This
includes the following topics, in which I identify the ways in which
information is being manipulated to spin the administration as victims:

o *Identity Politics.* I address the ways in which the issues
surrounding the crisis have been trivialized by the PR office and the

o *DPN and Dr. Jordan.* I address Dr. Jordan’s claim that the
1988 DPN [Deaf President Now] protest has nothing to do with the
current protest.

o *DPN and Unity for Gallaudet.* I draw parallels between the two
movements, concluding that they are similarly motivated.

o *Scheduled Maintenance.* I address the administration’s act of
spreading manure around the students’ tents in Tent City.

o *The War of Words.* I address the manipulation of words to make
the administration appear to be noble victims and the protestors to be

o *Keeping Classes Running and Access Open.* I address the fact
that Dr. Jordan and Dr. Fernandes continue to portray the campus as
being held hostage when classes and most normal business has resumed.

o *Students as Victims of the Faculty.* I address the notion that
the faculty is inciting the student protestors.

o *The Use of Fear.* I address the ways in which the
administration is using fear of loss of revenue and fear of loss of
Gallaudet in their attempts to quiet the disagreement.

o *The Status Quo.* I address the ways in which the PR office
construes the acts of the administration as non-political and the acts
of the protestors as political.

o I argue that all these things accumulate to illustrate a failure
of Dr. Jordan to lead the University out of this crisis.

· *Dr. Fernandes.* I address the idea that Dr. Fernandes is a
scholar, a successful administrator and a leader, finding fault with
each notion. I argue that if she were a leader she would already have
been leading.

· I conclude with a call to the administration to stop spinning
images and to begin to lead us out of the crisis.


[Open letter:]

[Page 2:]

[Bold print:] An Open Letter To My Faculty and Student Colleagues and
to the Board of Trustees

I am sitting in my office at Gallaudet, as I have been for the last few
months, feeling helpless, powerless, and frustrated. When I get like
this I either write serious essays or create satirical pieces. I have
done two pieces of satire and will stop it for now. It is time for me
to get serious.

I ask you to indulge me for a few minutes in a discussion of what I see
as a rather complex situation. I do not believe it can be expressed in
a few paragraphs or in slogans and I know it is not well represented in
the sound bites and video clips that are accessible through the press.
I hope that what I have to say will add a useful perspective to the

On Tuesday evening, October 17, a large group of faculty members walked
to Dr. Jordan’s house and stood quietly with candles and signs that
reflected the overwhelming vote of the Gallaudet University Faculty
demanding the removal of Dr. Fernandes. I was at home putting my
four-year-old to bed when I began to receive urgent emails and voice
messages from faculty members saying that Dr. Jordan had agreed to meet
with five faculty members and that, somehow, I had been proposed as one
of the members of the delegation. I do not see myself as a spokesperson
for the faculty, but I agreed to attend the meeting, scheduled for ten
o’clock Wednesday morning and subsequently to attend another meeting
with Dr. Fernandes.

After some scheduling difficulties, the meeting with Dr. Fernandes took
place last Thursday afternoon. The meeting with Dr. Jordan finally
happened yesterday, Tuesday, October 24. Both meetings were frustrating
and each made it clear that our two appointed leaders do not see
conversation with the faculty as leading to a solution to the crisis.
Our hopes that we would be able to use the meetings to help end the
crisis were not realized.

At the same time, I am seeing that the press is unable to get a grip on
what I think are the actual issues at hand in the protest and in the
context at large.

This letter is a commentary on my perceptions, opinions, and beliefs
about the current situation at Gallaudet. It is what I – a long-time
academic and dedicated member of the faculty and a professional
anthropologist – see in the continuing restless situation. My
observations are based officially on twenty-seven years of
“Gallaudet-watching” and on my participation in the Gallaudet
structure at a number of levels, including a total of six years
functioning as an administrator in the Graduate School.

More importantly, it is based on my nearly thirty-year love affair with
this institution. I think, and have thought from the first time that I,
a hearing person with no previous connection to deaf people, set foot
on this ground, that there is something magical and special about it.
In the history of human culture, there are few institutions that so
clearly reflect our humanity and our infinite belief in human

At the same time,


[Page 3:]

Gallaudet to me is admittedly full of challenges and problems. But,
mostly, it is something to be honored and cherished as a treasure of
human patrimony.

It is with this in mind that I proceed.

*Complex Truths and Simple Lies.* Alexis de Tocqueville, the great 19th
Century observer of the United States and analyst of American
democracy, is widely quoted as having said that it is easier for the
world to accept a simple lie than a complex truth [Footnote 1]. He was
especially interested in how such simple lies could be used to
strengthen the position of mediocre governments, even in the face of
disagreement from the masses.

I believe that we have an illustration of the tenet of the simple lie
in the current situation. We and the World are faced with a situation
in which the entire perception of Gallaudet hangs on the simple lies
and manufactured images of the richly sophisticated and immensely
expensive public relations machine of Gallaudet’s administration. To
me, it reflects a culture of lying [Footnote 2] that is infused into
every level of the administrative structure of the University; one that
at once explains many of the issues raised by the protest and verifies
the protestors’ claim that the current administration, notably
including the President Elect, is unfit to lead the University through
the coming years.

I also believe that the truth of the situation is considerably more
complex than the information available in blurbs from the PR office or
in the kind of questioning that nurtures the media’s hunger for
hyperbolic and simplistic sound and video bites that fit nicely between
dinner and Monday Night Football.

*A Crisis of Leadership.* I believe that the essence of the crisis at
Gallaudet is a failure of our leaders to accept the responsibilities
and obligations that are inherent in their positions and a tendency to
cover up this failure with a series of simple lies. To me this begins
with the Board of Trustees, rests primarily with Dr. Jordan, and is
exemplified by Dr. Fernandes.

*The Board of Trustees.* The Board of Trustees (BOT) is charged with
the oversight of the University. It is their job to make the big
decisions that determine how the resources of the institution are used
and who uses them. They appoint the administrators, who are charged
with carrying out the wishes of the BOT. The Board has what lawyers
call a *fiduciary* responsibility, growing from a relationship of trust
between the governing board, thus called *trustees*, and the bodies for
whom the board acts.

They are reported to have announced that the current situation at
Gallaudet is not within their fiduciary

[Footnote 1:] My memories of Toqueville persist from my liberal
undergraduate education and are enhanced by plentiful discussions on
the Internet of his relevance to today’s political and social
context. I apologize to true political scientists for my amateurish
interpretations of one of their icons. Here are three sites I

[Footnote 2:] Cruz, Jeff. http://www.tpmcafe.com/user/12618/recent;
(accessed October 23, 2006.)


[Page 4:]

purview, that it is simply an administrative issue. With this statement
they have been essentially removed from the context of the protest,
except to issue statements in support of Dr. Jordan’s administration
and their appointment of Dr. Fernandes, and to express their absolute
unanimity and their authority. Their participation has been
characterized neither by open communication nor free discussion. In
short, they are largely absent from the current situation and
unresponsive to a multitude of requests from faculty, staff, alumni,
and parents to become more involved. Their repeated statements that
they have heard the protestors but simply do not agree with them, are
nothing more than an exercise of authority. They are not indicative of
a group who is interested in communication [Footnote 3].

Why would such a group, charged with the rather weighty obligation to
make the important decisions about the direction of the University,
abandon that responsibility and disappear? In my opinion, it has to do
with the makeup of the Board in general and with the ways in which
their decisions have been managed by the administration.

The board is composed of respected members of the community. According
to decisions made after the Deaf President Now (DPN) protests in 1988,
at least half of the BOT must be deaf. Except for this requirement,
there is no inclusion of stakeholders in the membership of the Board.
It is largely successful business, government and academic people, who
volunteer their time to serve. We are grateful to them for taking time
from their busy lives to work with our University. But there are no
designated representatives from the faculty, the professional staff, or
the student body. There are several members who are also alumni of the
University, but I do not believe that they represent the alumni in any
official way. Boards of corporations tend to be made up of stakeholders
– usually the major stockholders – who have something to lose if
the administration of the organization takes a wrong turn. Accordingly,
misdirection is noted and dealt with. In such organizations, the Board
feels an obligation to oversee administrative activities. In many of
this country’s best universities, the governing boards must also
include the stakeholders. Though there are numerous varieties of this
model, it is common for alumni, students, faculty and other parties
with a direct interest in the outcomes of administrative decisions to
have a voice on the governing boards of universities.

I believe this lack of direct interest in and experience with the
University leads the BOT to be less involved in – and less informed
about – the issues that are critical to the well-being of the
institution. Perhaps more critically, I believe that it has led them to
be managed by the very administration they are supposed to be

The University, as we have seen, has a powerful and effective public
relations arm. Having always been dependent upon the Federal Government
while existing only a few blocks from the Capitol has led Gallaudet
understandably to be very aware about and jealous of its public image.
Though this tendency has been present here from the time I

[Footnote 3:] I understand from colleagues that there were actually
several trustee sightings on campus last week and that the
“unanimity” of the Board may actually reflect the results of a
formal vote rather than the attitudes of the individual members. The
Washington Post reported a similar rift in the Board in a news story on
October 20.


[Page 5:]

arrived 25 years ago – and I assume for years prior to that – it
has reached epic proportions under the administration of Dr. Jordan.
We, as faculty and students, do not have access to the details of the
University budget, but we can assume that expenditures for manipulating
the positive public image of the University are quite large by any
standard. Consider, for example, the numerous slick and expensive print
materials emanating from the PR office during the summer attempting to
manipulate the image of the President Elect.

In many of my interactions directly with Dr. Jordan during his years as
President, and in many more communications from my upper- and middle
management superiors, the consistent message has been that we must not
conduct ourselves in a way that draws attention to any negative aspect
of the university… that to do so would threaten our support from

This generalized focus is realized in a number of forms, but most
obviously in the attempt by Dr. Jordan’s team to control absolutely
the outward flow of information to the public through the press and the
upward flow of information to the Congress and the BOT. To this end,
all university employees are forbidden, on threat of disciplinary
action, to communicate directly with any member of Congress or their
staff or with any member of the BOT. Moreover, the President’s
Office, through the position of Board Liaison [Footnote 4], manages all
information provided to the Board, primarily through the thick
notebooks that constitute the agendas of their meetings. Faculty and
students are given three primary opportunities to get information to
the Board, first through their reports to the subcommittee on Academic
Affairs (reports which the faculty complains are typically not read
before the meeting by the members of the subcommittee) and the second
through an event called the Faculty Tea, at which a few selected
members of faculty governance, most administrators from the Dean’s
level up, and the Board have an hour-long roundtable discussion about
some topic of current interest in the University. During each meeting,
there is also a luncheon to which many faculty and staff are invited.
At these luncheons, there is typically one board member at a table of
twelve who chats casually about general topics. Outside these three
occasions, there is little upward information flow to the Board.
Preparation of reports by the mid-level administration is carefully
monitored by the upper administration and usually condensed and edited,
ostensibly to lighten the reading load for the board members, but more
precisely to maintain the image the upper administration is pushing:
one of successful outcomes and happy constituents.

It is my experience that the Board itself has bought into the notion
that the outward and upward flow of unrefined information is dangerous.
A year after the DPN protests and the inauguration of Dr. Jordan, I was
the first author of several papers that were critical directly of deaf
education, and, by extension, of Gallaudet as an example of deaf
education. During that year I presented this perspective at
conferences, meetings and inservice days throughout the United States.
During the 1989-1990 academic year, I was contacted by the
President’s Office on two different occasions and told that a member

[Footnote 4:] This was the name of the position for many years. I do
not know if the exact title has changed, but the function remains


[Page 6:]

the Board was interested in getting to know me better, an odd notion at
best, since I was a lowly chairperson of a small department. On both of
these occasions I was invited to a private dinner with a different
Board member, each of whom was not in a professional position to have
read my papers or to have heard directly any of my lectures. But each
of them, after some friendly chitchat, told me to stop saying what I
was saying, that my publications and lectures were threatening
Gallaudet’s image and that, if I did not stop, Gallaudet would lose
support from Congress.

I believe that the Board, because its members have little direct
interest in the outcomes of the organization and because it is managed
by the President’s Office through the manipulation of information,
has become a group that is driven by and controlled by the
President’s office. I do not believe that they have acted
independently in the current set of decisions and the situation that
grew from them. It is clear from Dr. Jordan’s own communication to
the campus community that he played a significant role in the decision
to offer the presidency to Dr. Fernandes. In his email to the community
in May, he said that he was not involved in the selection process; that
his involvement began at the level of the Board. The denial of
involvement is negated by the admission of involvement at the Board
level, which, incidentally, is the only level that counts, since they
are responsible for “making” the decision.

The Board of Trustees, no matter what they say, is one of the players
in the current situation. I believe that they have a responsibility to
act independently and with certainty to do what they can to resolve the
conflict. I believe that they have the responsibility to stop shrugging
off involvement and to try to find out why such a large proportion of
their community is in opposition to their decision. For them to remain
at a distance is, in my opinion, a failure of leadership.

*Dr. Jordan.* The President of Gallaudet University, Dr. Jordan, has
also, in my opinion, neglected his responsibility to lead the
university community. His position from the first day of this protest
has been that, though there is substantial disagreement with his
actions, he is the person in authority and his decision represents the
final word on the issue. He has also been largely absent, agreeing only
sporadically to meet with students or faculty and steadfastly refusing
to engage in a wider dialogue about the situation. In large part, his
communications have been more about authority than about communication.

In his response, we are again looking at his public relations machine,
now probably benefiting from the input of outside consultants as well
as the staff of the PR Office itself. His responses and those of the
entire administrative structure, rather than leading to an open and
honest dialogue, have manipulated images and words toward the end of
restricting dialogue and free expression. Thus, where one would expect
to find a true university leader engaging the community in a
problem-solving dialogue, we find manipulation and control of access to
information and the “spinning” of images and facts to his own ends,
which appear to be the perpetuation of his administrative regime and
all its concomitant baggage. In addition, we find a level of
application of authoritarian force that is foreign to the notion of the
University as a place that values free expression and discussion and
encourages variety.


[Page 7:]

Some examples, beginning last spring:

*Identity Politics.* From the outset, the PR Office, Dr. Jordan, and
Dr. Fernandes have characterized the protestors’ issues as
“identity politics,” claiming that the protest is about the idea
that Dr. Fernandes is “not deaf enough.” This is exactly the kind
of simple lie that Toqueville must have been thinking of. He talks
about a sort of tyranny that grows from the simple lie in order to
protect the mediocrity of those in authority. The facts that the
protest began as a complaint from people of color about the lack of
inclusiveness of the search process and that the complaints about Dr.
Fernandes are numerous and varied have been shoved aside in favor of
this notion that is calculated to gain the favorable opinion of a
decidedly monolingual and diversity-resistant press and public. It is
true that the students initially talked about this and about Dr.
Fernandes’ interaction style. It is true that the composition of the
upper level administration and their public use of the language could
lead one to think that there is a lack of respect for American Sign
Language and it is true that Dr. Fernandes has a personal style that
could be called flat by comparison to Dr. Jordan’s effusive warmth,
but that is not the real issue and never has been. The students are in
some ways unsophisticated and they are frustrated and they are not
being advised by sophisticated PR consultants. But Dr. Jordan and Dr.
Fernandes are, and they succeeded in identifying this as the motivation
for the protest, even in the face of substantial contrary evidence. The
press, having taken the proffered bait – an extremely palatable one,
since it is so useful in a one-phrase summary of the protest – are
now hooked, continuing to use the phrases *identity politics* and *not
deaf enough*, and thereby trivializing what is a complex and serious
set of objections to the way the Dr. Jordan and Dr. Fernandes have
managed and led the University. In our meeting, Dr. Jordan claimed that
his team (whom he referred to as “we”) does not construct the issue
in that way, though he continued to say that it was the students who
were saying it. His take on it is that the students, by focusing on
this, have hurt the image of deaf people. But the focus on this issue
came from his team’s PR spin who know that it is easier to accept a
simple lie than a complex truth.

And yet, as in any complex truth, the issue of what constitutes a deaf
president *is* a part of the picture. Though the students mistakenly
identified it as an issue of Dr. Fernandes’ heritage and signing
abilities, the real issue is not the trivial one of identity politics.
It is the issue of the vision of the university as a place that is
accessible to deaf students who relate to the world through vision and
who communicate through the rich bilingualism of literate deaf people
who use ASL [American Sign Language]. In this regard, little has
changed since DPN in the administrative imagination of educational
theory and practice at Gallaudet. To see this fact symbolized in
action, go to any event connected with the protest. You will see
protestors – faculty and student, deaf and hearing alike –
communicating visually through sign language and through pagers. It is
a rich, vital and effective communication environment. By contrast,
look at virtually any representative of the administration and you will
see them speaking in English on walkie-talkies. There could not be a
more vivid symbol of the underlying difficulties at Gallaudet than


[Page 8:]

*DPN and Dr. Jordan.* Last spring, Dr. Jordan, in one of his rare
appearances before the massed protestors at the Florida Avenue gate
uttered a statement I could not believe. A student reminded him that it
was a student protest in 1988, now called DPN, that gave him the office
that he now holds. His response was that he never supported DPN. I
presume that he means by this that he did not participate in the actual
protest. As I recall it, this part is true. But he was quick to jump at
the opportunity to become President and to appear at that final, huge,
marvelous meeting of the campus – so big that it required the Field
House – and to raise his joined hands in victory before the throng.
And he also organized and led roughly ten years of celebrations of DPN
each spring, appearing as the victor and leader at each. Thus, though
it may be technically correct to claim that he did not support DPN, his
assertion in the absence of mention of his participation in all the
celebrations of DPN for the next ten years is disingenuous at best and
takes on the force of a simple lie, presenting a picture of the current
protestors as unreasonable and outside the bounds of appropriate

*DPN and Unity for Gallaudet.* Dr. Jordan has repeatedly asserted that
the Unity for Gallaudet protest (one name of the current protest) has
no connection with the DPN protest. This is another simple lie. First,
all one needs to do is go back to Oliver Sacks’ chronicle of the DPN
protest to see that most of the same issues were at stake there. In our
collective memory, DPN was about installing a deaf president and was at
odds with the BOT’s decision to install a hearing president. From my
perspective as a cultural analyst, the similarities could not be more
striking. It is true, that the Unity for Gallaudet movement is not just
about having a president who is deaf, but neither was DPN, really. Both
are about deaf emancipation and self-determination. In my view, the DPN
movement was simply the first step. At that time it was necessary and
sufficient in identifying acceptable characteristics of a President of
Gallaudet University to define *deaf* as *not being able to hear*. That
still is a necessary condition. The sufficiency condition has changed,
and deaf people want the Presidency to reflect their voice.

In both situations, a BOT, whose information was being managed by a
sitting president, chose to offer the job to one of three candidates,
purportedly the most qualified.

In the first case, there was an apparently highly qualified and highly
experienced university administrator who was hearing and who had
virtually no experience with deaf people or deaf education. The two
candidates who were not chosen were both deaf and both limited in
experience, one having been a professor and a dean at Gallaudet for a
couple of years and the other having been the superintendent of a state
residential deaf school but with only limited academic experience. None
of the three candidates was representative of an under-represented
group. The Board made the case that the first candidate was clearly
more qualified and that the other two were not yet ready to lead. An
outsider to the process might have concluded that the deck was stacked
in favor of the chosen candidate.

The ensuing uprising had nothing to do with Dr. Jordan. He was, indeed,
a bystander. It was about the unfairness and essential bias of the
selection process and about the desire of deaf people to determine
their own destiny. Because there had never been a deaf


[Page 9:]

president, the protest latched onto the deafness issue, but it clearly
was about the process and the unresponsiveness of the BOT to the
community it was supposed to be serving. But, upon the withdrawal of
Dr. [Zinser], the hearing appointee, the Board went with Dr. Jordan,
who had university administrative experience, albeit not enough to
become a president in a normal search. For his part, he promised to
learn what was necessary to become a president and pretty much did
that, staying at the helm for eighteen years. During that time he
demonstrated that he was “ready.” From the perspective a student of
the politics of deaf education, it is notable and probably not an
accident that the person ultimately chosen was also the one who had the
clearest speech, who oriented himself as a hearing person would, and
who would make a good showing before Congress and potential donors.

In the second case, the current one, there were three candidates, one
with substantial, high-level university administrative experience, who
also speaks quite intelligibly and is not of the deaf community. The
other two candidates are both of the deaf community, not notably oral
in their orientations. One is a professor with a few years experience
as a dean at Gallaudet and the other is the superintendent of a state
residential deaf school. None of the three candidates was
representative of an under-represented group. An outsider to the
process might have concluded that the deck was stacked in favor of the
chosen candidate. Does this sound familiar?

To me, it is a simple lie to say that there is a significant difference
between the two processes. In fact, I believe the issues in each to be
the same, though the stakes have apparently been raised. After DPN, the
community was willing to give Dr. Jordan a chance. He was, after all, a
person who did not hear. And though there was considerable muttering
about his lack of knowledge about the deaf community, his lack of
innovative vision for the institution, and, yes, his limitations in the
use of signing (he adheres to the use of English-like signing and
stubbornly refuses to sign without speaking simultaneously), he was
accepted and honored for the office he held. And he was held up as a
symbol of civil rights. But the basic issues that put him there did not
change; they waited and they simmered, the expectation and hope being
that someone more representative of the people of the community would
be the obvious next choice. Dr. Jordan and his team did little to
effect an actual change in the ways that Gallaudet functions. In many
ways it has not changed drastically in his eighteen years in office. In
my view, the people supported Dr. Jordan for his position, not for who
he was or for his accomplishments. They hoped to see him grow into the
position, but his vision did not change and neither did many of the
things about Gallaudet University that are so difficult for deaf people
to tolerate. And, when the time came to elect a new president, he would
push for someone in his own image, from his own team, who could
continue his traditions.

Thus, the more complex truth is that the current uprising is much like
the earlier one and that it grows from the inability of Dr. Jordan’s
administration to solve the fundamental problems of diversity and
access that plague the institution.


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*Scheduled Maintenance.* On the Friday before Tent City was to be
re-established, the word went out on the blogs, calling the protestors
to the Florida Avenue gate on Monday morning. The next day, Saturday,
the Gallaudet Physical Plant began to spread a very strong and smelly
manure in the area where the tents were to be erected. According to my
sources, it was being spread by a worker known as Shorty, who was
working on overtime that Saturday. When it began to rain, he stopped,
though to my knowledge, having it rain after you spread manure is a
good thing – not a reason to stop. The process was begun again and
completed on Monday morning, after some of the tents were already up.

The Administration claims that it was simply scheduled maintenance.
They also have claimed repeatedly that their primary interest is the
safety and welfare of their students. If both of these things were
true, it would be unlikely that they would be paying overtime for the
spreading of the manure and almost certain that the workers conducting
the scheduled maintenance would notice that students were camping in
the area and not spread the manure or at least ask a superior if they
should proceed.

When asked about this, Mercy Coogan, the Director of Public Relations
for Gallaudet, told a faculty member that she was sure it was not
intentional, because it had been discussed as a possibility in a
meeting during the summer but had been dismissed. Put these together,
and we have a couple of simple lies, leading to an act that is easily
interpreted as an unacceptable form of tyranny and a probable violation
of health regulations. The responsibility for not stopping this act, no
matter when it was scheduled, lies with Dr. Jordan and his team.

*Establishing Authority to Justify Repression.* On Friday, October 13,
I happened to be chatting with a friend who is a political scientist
and who lived through two violent totalitarian dictatorships in
Argentina. He had been reading the Washington Post that day and noted,
without my prompting, that its editorial stance was decidedly favorable
to the administration point of view and that there was almost nothing
representing the perspective of the protestors. He volunteered that, in
his opinion, this was an example, as in Argentina, of the
administration establishing authority with the press before making an
extremely authoritarian move. He pointed out that the government would
represent the opposition in a way that justified forceful and violent
action and that portrayed it a *reaction* by the government. He also
told me that the strategy was at some point to raise the stake by some
symbolic act of violence that would bring the people to the streets and
justify even more repressive measures.

It was, in fact, an editorial that day that inspired me to move from
the sidelines of the protest and to begin to express my opinion. For
weeks we had seen the PR Office spinning the images to make the
protestors appear to be trivial and shallow and the administration to
be victimized, innocent and noble. Information had been managed
thoroughly in such a way that the community was being provided links to
articles and editorials favorable to the administration but none to
articles with a more balanced perspective or favorable to the
protestors. In one case a favorable Post editorial was reproduced on PR
Office letterhead without attribution. The wording of that editorial,


[Page 11:]

written by a person with no ostensible experience with the deaf
community, and several preceding it made it apparent that they were
written almost directly from PR Office press releases or other
documents. To me, the diction, the terminology, and the issues raised
were obviously manufactured here at Gallaudet rather than on 15th
Street, NW. Below, I demonstrate how Dr. Jordan and the PR machine are
characterizing the protestors as essentially violent.

It was revealing to me that my friend was so right. That very night,
using the same arguments put forth in the press – arguments that his
team had planted there, Dr. Jordan ordered the nighttime arrest of 133
young people at the university gate, ironically including one of the
four leaders of the 1988 DPN movement that had put him into his

Today as I write this I am looking out my window at a backhoe,
bulldozing Tent City. This, I believe, constitutes the second half of
my friend’s prediction. It is an administrative temper tantrum; a
reaction akin to using a shotgun to swat a mosquito, and it will have
its desired effect. The symbolism of using construction machinery to
raze temporary camps cannot be escaped. It will breed real violence.
And as we watch for the press release from the PR office we can predict
that it will be justified by “the violent and unlawful acts” of the
students. I do not claim here that the students were right in blocking
access to the campus and I believe that there is a benefit to having
classes continue during the protest and to establishing a civil
dialogue. But these acts serve only to amplify the authority of the
administration and do nothing constructive to resolve the crisis. I
strongly object to the construction of the situation by Dr. Jordan and
his team as one in which he had no choice. That is another simple lie.

*The War of Words.* Dr. Jordan’s PR staff is good with words. They
should be; it is their job. One faculty member cites Ms. Coogan, the PR
Director, as saying that it is her job to “push, push the
administration point of view.” I suppose that is true, though one
wonders why, in the context of a university, there is not more
commitment to dialogue and problem solving than to the pushing of an
authorized perspective.

Virtually all releases from the President, the President Elect, and the
PR Office share the feature of manipulation of words to create an image
of any dissenter as violent, unruly, and uncommunicative. The President
has repeatedly claimed that the protestors refuse to communicate,
simultaneously asserting that he will not change his mind and that Dr.
Fernandes will not step down. It is interesting that the word
*intransigence* is applied to the protestors, while positive words such
as *steadfast* are applied to Dr. Fernandes. In fact, this is a simple
lie: both parties are refusing to communicate and whatever word
describes a refusal to bargain should be applied equally to them. But
the students are students and Dr. Jordan is supposed to be a leader,
not an inaccessible authoritarian. I believe that it is his
responsibility to find a way for the two groups to communicate. And I
believe that it is a straightaway refusal by Dr. Jordan to assume that
role of leader that has led to the failure of communication between the
administration on one side and the protestors and faculty on the other.


[Page 12:]

Dr. Jordan distributed a similarly biased response to the overwhelming
faculty vote demanding the removal of Dr. Fernandes. The vote, which
occurred on October 16, demanded the resignation or removal of Dr.
Fernandes. Of 168 faculty members in attendance there were 138 for the
resolution and 24 against, with 6 abstentions. This represents 82% of
the faculty in attendance and about 62% of the entire faculty. He
claimed that he would not submit to *mob rule*. He characterizes the
vote as a response to high emotion. I was a part of that meeting. It
was in no sense a mob. It was a reasoned, week-long electronic
discourse, followed by a two-hour meeting, in which each person had an
opportunity to express their opinion about each proposal. It was the
most highly attended faculty meeting in my memory and it was
characterized by an unaccustomed level of collegiality and reason. The
vote was overwhelming and it was fair, and though people were
expressing strong opinions, it was not coercive. In our meeting with
Dr. Jordan he claimed the vote to be invalid, because the faculty had
to walk through two lines of students to get into the meeting and
because he was told that the situation was emotionally charged. Having
been there I can say that the students were respectful, silent and
friendly. Dr. Fernandes, for her part, has also minimized the vote,
simply asserting that the numbers are not valid. It is a simple lie to
characterize this as mob rule and to minimize it as unimportant but it
is useful in sustaining the view of the administration as the victims.

*Keeping Classes Running and Access Open.* Classes were suspended for
just three days. They resumed last Monday, October 16. All the faculty
members I know have been meeting their classes since then. Two of us
had to leave the meeting with Dr. Jordan – a meeting for which we
waited for a full week – to meet our classes. Classes have been
running until this morning, the mail has been delivered, and the
university has been functioning. And yet as late as last Thursday, four
days after classes had resumed, there was a press conference in College
Hall in which several students pled on camera that they wanted to
return to class. As of yesterday, Dr. Fernandes, in an interview, was
still claiming that the students are holding classes hostage. The
implication, beyond the lie that classes were not meeting, is that the
campus is not safe for the students who want to go to class.

I, myself, have seen no act of violence or intimidation, but Dr.
Jordan, in our meeting, continued to construct the protest as
essentially violent. I know of a case in which one of the protestors
actually took a vandal to the Department of Public Safety and turned
him over to the campus police. I see that Dr. Jordan’s name on the
SAC has been vandalized. I do not approve of vandalism. Beyond this, I
have seen nothing of a threatening or violent nature from the
protestors. They have been for the most part cordial and peaceful. The
student and faculty leaders have repeatedly urged the protestors not to
be violent. Dr. Jordan says there are many instances I do not know
about: spray painting guest rooms in the Conference Center, flooding
Kendall School, and harassing other students. If these things were
perpetrated by the protestors, I am sorry to hear it and I urge them to
understand how such behavior will harm their cause. Meeting what we see
as oppression with acts that can be construed as terrorism or violence
will not help to solve our problems. I hope that the protestors take
great care not to harm any building or property,


[Page 13:]

because any sign of vandalism will be used widely to discredit the real
issues behind the protest.

In Dr. Jordan’s two announcements of the canceling of Homecoming, he
claimed that the cancellation was necessary because he could not
guarantee the safety of the visitors to campus. This puts forth the
image of a band of wild hooligans attacking campus visitors. It is a
simple lie. It is in my view this lie that leads to the perception by
the accrediting body that the campus is out of control when it is not.

*Students as Victims of the Faculty.* Though I have not seen it said in
print, I have heard members of Dr. Jordan’s staff repeat publicly the
claim that the student protestors are being manipulated and incited by
a few faculty members – that they are not independent in their
actions. This is also a simple lie. In fact, I daresay that it is the
other way around. It looks to me like the actions of the students have
inspired many more faculty members to join the protest than vice versa.

*The Use of Fear.* Throughout the history of deaf education, it has
been rare for members of the client community – the deaf people being
served – to be included in any meaningful way in decision making
about the organizations. In my conversations with the community during
the past thirty-four years, I have noticed an interesting relationship
between deaf people and this fact.

Let me preface this observation with a description of the role of the
deaf school (and, by extension, Gallaudet University) in the
imagination of deaf people. For them the deaf school is the center, the
source, the core and the heart of the community, the language and the
culture. It is where little children who cannot communicate with their
parents may go and where they may learn to function as a fully normal
human being. It is a place where little children with deaf parents may
go and communicate freely with others like them. It is the place where
little children encounter big people who are what the children will
become. The deaf school and Gallaudet are both precious places in this

But they have, until very recently, tended not to be governed by other
deaf people, a fact that has been accepted historically without any
outright rebellion on the part of deaf people. This has remained true
even as the institutions have tended to be plagued by various forms of
social and physical abuse that grow from institutionalization and
inequality. Early in my interactions with deaf people, I began to hear
of outrageous examples of physical and sexual abuse of children at the
hands of adults and other, older children in the school. In certain
cases I watched as known child molesters were feted and honored by the
deaf community.

I was appalled and asked how this could happen. I was told that deaf
people tended to keep their silence, because, if the word got out about
the abuses, the schools would be closed and they would lose their
*place*, that they did not have an alternative to the deaf school


[Page 14:]

This, of course, is another form of the simple lie that keeps the
status quo in place. When news of such abuses has gotten out, it has
not tended to lead to the closing of the institutions, but rather to a
cleaning out of the people responsible. But administrators have learned
that this fear is a useful tool for controlling opposition from the
clients and employees of their institutions.

Dr. Jordan and his office are using fear in exactly the same way today.
We hear that the protestors had better back off or Congress will yank
our funding, though I believe that this is unlikely if we get a
president with any skills at all. And this Monday we were treated to an
email from Dr. Jordan letting us know that the protestors had caused
the Middle States Association (MSA) to write him a letter. Dr. Jordan
reminded the community that the MSA can decide not to accredit
Gallaudet, which would lower the value of the students’ degrees. This
also is a simple lie. As I read the situation in Dr. Jordan’s
paraphrase of the letter, MSA expressed their doubts about his ability
to maintain control of the university and to keep classes running. This
is quite different from the implications he has presented. His attempt
to parlay this into a threat to the protestors and to the existence of
Gallaudet is another simple lie.

*The Status Quo.* A particularly annoying characteristic of the
administration’s statements is the implication that the status quo
is, by definition, non-political but that opposition to it is political
to its core. This, of course, is an old, simple lie, which justifies
the continuation all kinds of practices in this country. All acts are
political at some level and those of the administration are no less
supportive of their own political agenda than are those of the faculty
and the protestors.

All these things accumulate to illustrate a reprehensible failure of
Dr. Jordan to lead the University out of this crisis.

*Dr. Fernandes.* It has been stated repeatedly and widely that Dr.
Fernandes is eminently qualified to become the President of Gallaudet
University. She is represented as a widely respected scholar of ASL and
as an effective administrator – a “change agent.” She is
represented as the best choice to lead the university for the coming

I disagree, though my view has nothing to do with her signing, her
degree of deafness, or her widely cited lack of social graces. I also
believe that the protest is not about those things, though they are
issues that rankle the students and that they have talked about. They
made useful concepts upon which the PR machine could focus the
media’s interest and attention to divert them from the more pertinent

Her list of publications, dominated by unpublished books and short
pieces she wrote for PR publications of the organizations she managed
and notably short on publications in peer reviewed journals, is that of
a professional administrator, not that of an accomplished scholar. She
is not, as the press has said, a scholar of ASL, nor is she an
academic. That is fine, because she is not applying to be a professor
or researcher, positions for which, in fact, her resume would be seen
as somewhat weak. There is really


[Page 15:]

no need to represent her as an accomplished scholar, except, again, to
feed the lie that the protestors are shallow and unreasonable.

In addition, she has limited experience as a faculty member and little
teaching experience. Her tenured faculty position at Gallaudet was
[widely] proclaimed to have been achieved by subverting the faculty
governance system, which is supposed to be responsible for such
decisions. Those of us who went through the required seven year process
of evaluations of teaching, scholarship, and service are dismayed that
an administrator achieved the status so easily.

Of more concern is the gradual slide of academic standards, the sorry
state of student enrollment, and the demographic makeup of the faculty
during her time as Provost. Though she put a great deal of attention on
her program to improve the quality of education it lacked real
substance and, in the absence of a leader with a real educational
vision and agenda, it has died an early death.

Compare her academic credentials and her vision to those of a bona fide
university president and leader such as Freeman A. Hrabowski, the
President of UMBC [The University of Maryland, Baltimore County], who
has visited our campus three or four times in the past several years.
He is, in fact, a widely regarded scholar and author and is heavily
invested in the academy. He is articulate and passionate about his work
and driven by a vision of UMBC as an inclusive university. His vision
infects those who work and study there and creates a vital and thriving
community. As one looks at his accomplishments at UMBC, one realizes
that he is, in fact, an agent of change. And there is no question that,
although the job of university president is centered on fund raising
these days, he and his team are firmly connected to the academic life
of the university and that they are intimately involved with the
academic vision of the institution. The academic arm of Dr. Jordan’s
administration, managed for the last few years by Dr. Fernandes is not
characterized by the same degree of attention and vision from the
president. The Division of Academic Affairs has become a grossly top
heavy, oddly organized unit that is not governed by an overarching
vision of what education means at Gallaudet University. In fact, it is
a smaller model of the overall inefficient and wasteful administrative
structure of the University at large. Dr. Fernandes has done little to
change this through her tenure here.

In that regard, it is inaccurate to refer to Dr. Fernandes as a change
agent. Her showcase program for educational change fizzled. The
Academic Affairs Planning process (AAPC), which met for two years,
involved literally tens of thousands of hours of human effort on the
part of students, faculty and administrators. She pushed it during that
time as the opportunity for change in the institution. It resulted in
an ambitious document, referred to as *New Directions in Academic
Affairs*, which outlined a series of goals that would change the
direction of academics at Gallaudet. After a good bit of fanfare and
substantial, positive cooperation from the community, she gave in to
resistance to change and made the illogical announcement that the goals
for innovation could be exemplified only by programs or projects that
were already in existence. It thus became yet another in a long line of
shallow, make-work exercises for supervisors and department chairs who
must struggle to fit old practices into the new, glossy paradigm.


[Page 16:]

Her vision of enrollment management and recruitment remains ineffective
and out of touch with the realities of savvy deaf youth, who see their
choice as one between low academic standards in the undergraduate
curriculum at Gallaudet or higher standards at other institutions that
have now become accessible as a result of federal disability
legislation. Enrollment has been suffering a serious decline, and
rather than develop a new vision of recruitment to try to find and
attract the best students, her organization has gradually lowered
admissions standards and found new ways to gloss over the declines. A
leader with vision would be vocal and energetic about the loss of
students. She has not been.

But some would say that she deserves the chance that Dr. Jordan has
implored us to give her. They suggest that she might, as Dr. Jordan
did, grow into the position.

I do not think so, and here is why in the simplest terms.

As we talked with her in her office last week, I was struck by her lack
of understanding of the situation. She told us that the process leading
to her selection was “a little bit flawed, but fair.” She believes
that she is uniquely qualified, among all deaf people, to lead the
university. She claims that to resign would be bad for the university;
that the best thing for Gallaudet is for her to stay. (Dr. Jordan
asserted the same claim yesterday in our meeting.) Dr. Fernandes
proclaims that she is not staying for herself, but for the good of the
university. She believes that, upon assuming the presidency, she will
be able to bring the university out of this crisis through
communication and dialogue and not through repressive authority. This
notion stands in opposition to her other showcase program: the
diversity initiative, which was to guarantee new levels of inclusion in
such decisions at Gallaudet, but did not.

I suggest that if Dr. Fernandes were competent to lead this university
she would have done something positive before now to solve the current
situation on the campus. At the Faculty Forum on October 9, she stood
before an expectant and not-yet-opposed faculty and was unable to say
anything of substance that might help to bring the crisis to a
conclusion. The fact that she has been content to sit in her new office
and use the press to throw words at the protestors suggests that she is
not the communicator she believes herself to be.

I believe that if she were suited for such a discussion, it would
already have begun under her guidance. In my view, it would be the
incoming president’s duty, obligation, and privilege to lead right
now, not later, not after the students became less stubborn, not after
an inauguration. Right now. The fact that she has not engaged in such a
dialogue and has been unable to provide the community with a picture of
how she intends to lead us out of this morass is appalling evidence of
the mistake that the BOT and Dr. Jordan have made. I hope they will
right it without delay, before more young people suffer and before the
university is damaged more than it has already been.


[Page 17:]

Most importantly, the entire phenomenon of her candidacy is based on
simple lies. And here is what Dr. Jordan, the Board and Dr. Fernandes
don’t seem to “get.”
Manufacturing a simple lie, manipulating information, disinforming the
press, managing access to information, and creating false images does
not change the truth. This practice cannot be maintained as a strategy
for long. To believe so is self-delusion.

And now my last word. Yesterday, Dr. Jordan asked me directly what I
could do about the crisis. I said that what I know how to do is to
teach my classes and to write about it. He countered that instead of
writing about it, I should be communicating with the students to try to
get them to stop protesting.

In response, I have a piece of advice for Dr. Jordan: instead of
spinning negative images in the press and instead of flexing your
authority, you should be communicating with the faculty and students,
ready to adjust some of your rigid thinking, in order to bring this
crisis to a conclusion we can all live with.

Robert E. Johnson, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Linguistics
October 25, 2006


19 thoughts on “Dr. Robert E. Johnson’s letter – Text version

  1. A few questions from a blog idiot

    How do you keep the spammers from eating you alive? i\’ve seen blogs with nothing but spam postings.

    How do you keep some left wing extremist from posting racist or defamatory rhetoric? and if you cant stop them, what are you legally liabel when they do?

    can viruses be posted to blogs?


  2. We do not enough THANK YOU Johnson because you have observed the many situations while you work for! Wake up to us! Gallaudet Administrtation is dirty in corruption money and control policies of our Gallaudet community! Enough is enough!
    We wish Johnson is GU president someday! BSP


  3. Beautifully written with crystal clear indepth explainations of the stark corruption and manipulation among the Gallaudet administrations, Public Relations under the president and his puppet BOTs. I have had a few who were opposed to the protest probably due to Gallaudet’s slick PR tatics to the press. I simply e-mailed them the link to the video of ASL translation of your letter. A day after,I recieved their replies that they finally seen the light thru the veil of lies. Unity to Gallaudet’s FSSA. BOTs has to go, PR team has to go, I.K. Jordan has to go. It’s time to clean the Gallaudet’s attics, the webs of corruption, audism, manipulation, and history of oppression. What amazes me was that three powerful honored members of Congress sits on Gallaudet Board of Trustees were BLIND and DEAF to the current crisis at our beloved deaf institution of Gallaudet University. They got to go too.


  4. Beautifully done. Especially the video of ASL translation of this letter. It is very clear and educational for us.


  5. The arguments in the letter are of uneven quality. Dr. johnson’s analysis of the control of upward and outward information is not only an eye-opener, it’s probably the major sin of which the Jordan administration is guilty. Other arguments, however, are no more complex than the “simple lies” they’re supposed to refute. Having estblished the “complex truths/simple lies” framework, all Dr. Johnson has to do is to call an incovenient claim a “simple lie”, and not offer anything much more enlightening in response.


  6. Rudolph, I would suggest that your example would be stronger if you boasted about your net worth instead of your foolish ownership of a depreciating asset.


  7. I agree, the name for Gallaudet has turned rotten as if a worm raped the core of an apple. This awful “worm” is what’s called the protest, organizing hunger strikes and whatnot, you are all losers. I refuse to send my kids to Gallaudet University because I must live a life that meets you at the gates. The gates are a symbol that the Deaf world is self-centered and refuse to “get to know the world outside, and give the world a chance to know YOU.” I am a Deaf person who owns a 2007 Mercedes-Benz CL 5.5 AMG because I have worked hard to get where I am. If I had gave the Deaf world a chance, I would probably be driving a Yugo. I’m sorry, I just know that the Deaf world gets you NOTHING outside of the world watching it. Gallaudet makes it embarassing to be Deaf. Dr. Fernandes could have changed your world and have you earn yourselves anything you wanted, but now 90% of you will never see a Benz on the inside.


  8. Dr. Johnson is a genius. It will be a trip if he is deaf so he could be our president. But, seriously, I feel the connection to his 17-pages letter. Hats off to Dr. Johnson and his letter because it says it all!
    Gallaudet shall heal with a new president and vision.
    Heal, Gallaudet, Heal!


  9. Dr. Johnson, as a CODA and interpreter, I applaud your views and your insight. Today is a great day for all Deaf, but especially the Deaf at Gallaudet.


  10. dr. johnson, thanks for sharing a GREAT piece! students are actually the cream of crops. hence with you as their teacher, they will able to observe, evaluate and then make judgment for what they believe in to make a better world for the Deaf. Gallaudet need more professors like you!



    Jane already proven herself as a failure and you still want to giver her a chance. Oh please! I just became the first deaf Chief Engineer at Courtyard by Marriott on Oct 13th the black Friday and so happy with all those good managers here. I would never work under Gallaudet administrator full of nightmare, horror stories, inflexible, lack of understanding, lack of joy, lack of fun, and unfruitable careers there. Here I go home loving this place where I work for arriving home nice and happy for my wife. I don’t think many of them will be able to arrive back home happily under JANE. I bet anyone $100 bucks that staff/facuity majority of them will be fearful/unhappy with their job if Jane becomes President. If I’m wrong then $100 will go to FSSA.


  12. This protest makes a mockery of the institution and of the civil rights movements of the past. Hunger strike? Gandhi did not drink V8 or Boost during his protest for independence. The media sees this with their very eyes and does not need the admin spinning anything. To cry foul after being arrested of their own volition is ridiculous, and the media sees this. The protestors’ own contradictions, with no help from the admin.

    I am not a supporter of Jane, but this protest would make a lot more sense to the outside world if it was happening AFTER she becomes president and the FSSA can point to concrete actions that she has taken to hurt the institution, not the easy and vague accusations of audism, racism, and “failed leadership.”

    Putting the BoT in this position now is wrong and sets a dangerous precedent. When Jane takes office, one of two things will happen: she will be a great president or she will be a bad one. If she is a great president, then we all win. If she is a bad one, the BoT will remove her (Brenda Brueggeman has already said that the Board would watch her very closely, as a Board is to do). If they do not, then the protest would be deemed valid by the Deaf AND hearing Worlds.


  13. Great article, Dr. Johnson and I am happy you have come forward to write with your bold feeling about Dr. Jordan…..when I first met him in Mich. back in 1988 or ’89, he was invited to be a guest speaker at the GUAA Chapter dinner. After the dinner, we met and he asked me what I do for the living and told him that I was working in glass company as an estimator. He assured me that he had a brother working in Philea., Pa. doing the same thing I do….it really made me happy to hear this. A year later I moved to Washington, D.C. and lived outside of DC in Md., I worked for a glass company in Md. and went to see Dr. Jordan about getting some contract works with Gallaudet. I saw him and we talked about this but to my dismay, he said that he never said anything about his brother or whatsoever…I got angry and thought he was not telling the truth Then I never bothered going back to Gallaudet to look for contract works but I did when company sent me there doing the glazing job. From this day on, I have never thought of Dr. Jordan as a truthful person. I have told some Alumni about that but didn’t bring this up again til today when I read your articles and nothing new to me about Dr. Jordan’s own integrity.
    Thanks for your thoughts….


  14. Bob has made a good contribution to his field and to Gallaudet over the years. He has always had a sharp tongue and pen since day one at Gallaudet, and it used to be fun to laugh with him.

    But years ago he began to get bitter; his wine has now turned fully to vinegar. What a dour and embittered man is old Bob.
    I am saddened to see such turn of mind. His piece here is a story, perhaps as he sees it, or an intentional fiction. Tenure makes us brave, heh, Bob?


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