A Personal Appeal to Step Back

Dear Dr. Fernandes:

As a Gallaudet alumnus, former president of the Gallaudet University Graduate-Professional Students Association, and former employee, I feel compelled, given the current situation at Gallaudet University, to write you this message. Please understand that the decision to write this message has not been easy. It has been a very difficult decision.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to follow what I can, understandably call Gallaudet’s saga from afar, yet hour after hour. A good number of important personalities within the national deaf community have written in an attempt to help resolve this impasse and help Gallaudet–our cherished Gallaudet move forward. It is my modest, yet honest belief that all these friends acted in good faith. They all share one thing: Gallaudet’s vital interests. Yes, all these friends, Dr. Fernandes, have Gallaudet’s superior interests at heart. Sadly, very sadly, these noble efforts have encountered fierce resistance from you to step down.
Dr. Fernandes, leadership, according to Shackleton, is a fine thing, but it has its costs. And, the greatest cost is loneliness. This truth leads me to the following thoughts:

Leadership Is a Covenant: Dr. Fernandes, it occurs to me that you and your advisers may be thinking that selecting a university president is not a popularity contest. I very much admire and respect such axiomatic statement. However, in my modest opinion, leadership, Dr. Fernandes, is a covenant. There are leaders, only because there are followers. In addition, followers follow leaders only on one condition: They must trust the leader. When there is no trust and/or following, there ipso facto, can be no leadership. Leaders don’t lead trees and animals. They lead rational human beings. Leading people against their will, i.e., people who refuse to follow, because they don’t trust, is tantamount to establishing a dictatorship.

Why can’t you face reality and accept it? Right now, more than ever before, you are alone, Dr. Fernandes. I understand–and see- from afar, that Dr. I. King Jordan stands by you. However, is Dr. Jordan all you need to lead? Are Gallaudet’s now overtly split Trustees all that you need to lead? It is time to reflect and resign for the greater good of Gallaudet University.

Again, leadership is a covenant. If you want to lead Gallaudet, that must be through some sort of agreement between you, herein called the leader, and the Gallaudet community in particular and the Deaf Community in general.  By this covenant, you would agree to love your people more than they love you. You would agree to value them more than they value you. You would agree to build a climate of trust, to listen to their demands, wants, needs, desires with an open mind, to be compassionate, respect them as equal partners and above all, focus on shared goals rather than personal agendas. In one word, you would agree to commit yourself to serving. In return–and because the people you would lead want to be valued, appreciated, trusted, respected, and understood— they would agree to value, appreciate, trust, respect, understand and, ultimately support you. Suits to point out that leaders must show that they deserve to be trusted. Therefore, it is really and first up to you to demonstrate and build genuine trust.

Unfortunately, as I watch the killing of Gallaudet goes on, it occurs to me that none of the above conditions is met.

Dr. Fernandes, there is no doubt that you are one of our time’s finest intellectual leaders. That fact not withstanding, you have never gained the trust of the Gallaudet community. What is more, you have lacked the soft skills that any leader needs to build trust. Because of that situation:

  • The majority of Gallaudet’s faculty distrusts you, does not like you and does not want you.
  • The majority of Gallaudet’s students distrusts you, does not like you and does not want you.
  • The majority of Gallaudet’s staff does not trust you, does not like you and does not want you
  • The majority of Gallaudet’s alumni does not trust you, does not like you and don’t want you

Now a significant number of trustees want you to resign. Can you just see that you are alone, too lonely? It is time to reflect and resign.

If You Are a True Leader, Don’t Violate People: We live in a civilized society. As such, acts of violation, oppression, and the likes are not and cannot be tolerated. There is violation when someone forces himself onto someone else. In terms of leadership, if we agree that leadership is a covenant between parties, then I will have the audacity to posit that leading a group of people who refuse to follow is tantamount to violating them. I can dare call this kind of leadership an administrative violation of the people, because it is forced upon people who refuse to follow. It is administrative violation because it is non-covenantal and non-contractual. Therefore, the Board of Trustees’ selection has little relevance. Your leadership has the aspect of an administrative violation and is devoid of real authority.

Based upon the foregoing dialectic of leadership, wisdom would recommend any individual in your current position to step back before telling the world that s/he is determined to fight. Has Gallaudet’s presidency become the fight for Iraq?

If You Love Something, Set It Free: Dr. Fernandes, I came closer than ever before to pleading with the protesters to seek a compromise. However, after the events of October the 13th, 2006, I had to reconsider my position. Frankly, I see no better alternative to this crisis other than your stepping down. You have told everyone that you love Gallaudet. I do believe you. That is why I am going to say what follows:

If you cherish something, set it free. If it is yours, it’ll certainly come back. If it doesn’t, it never was yours.

If you love Gallaudet and the Deaf Community, please set it FREE! Step down.

The Midas Power Can Be a Killer: If you love Greek mythology, here’s Midas! Midas was the king of ancient Phrygia. Greek mythology has it that one day, he helped an old friend of Dionysus, the god of revelry, who offered to reward Midas. Midas then asked Dionysus to give him the power so that everything he touches will turn to gold. Dionysus granted his wish. From that point on, everything Midas laid his hand on turned to gold.

 Troubles didn’t take long to happen, though. Midas got hungry and sat down at a banquet table. As he reached the meat, it turned to gold in a matter of seconds. He wanted to drink. He reached out to wine and the wine immediately turned to solid gold. The worst thing happened when he hugged his own daughter. She turned to a solid golden statue!

 Midas realized that his life has become so miserable that he had to take back his initial state. He went to Dionysus and begged him to take his golden power away from him. Dionysus agreed. He asked Midas and his daughter to go to the source of a river called Pactolus and bathe there. He and his daughter went to that river. They bathed and Midas lost his golden power and both he and his daughter subsequently regained their previous nature and were happy again.

It might be easier to gain the golden power than keep it, for “In this world it is not what we take up, but what we give up, that makes us rich.” (Henry W. Beecher).

Dr. Fernandes, setting Gallaudet FREE and allowing the Trustees to select a new president is going to make you grander than if you really fight until your last drop of energy.

Please listen to the voice of reason and have the courage to make that decision. Resign with dignity.

Thank you! 

Jean-Pierre E. Mbei
Gallaudet Alumnus
Former President of the Gallaudet GPSA
Former Gallaudet Employee


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