NTID’s Slutzky: Gallaudet Isolating Deaf

By Jack Slutzky
(November 3, 2006) — I am totally dismayed and more than a little angry over the events at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C. The trustees voted late last month to terminate the appointment of incoming president Jane Fernandes, the subject of months of protests.

These feelings have been aroused in me by phrases being bandied around: “not deaf enough,” “not my kind of deaf,” “deaf culture,” “not adequately committed to American Sign Language” and “Gallaudet, the leading college for the deaf.”

Jack Slutzky
I taught at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology for more than 27 years. My son, who was born profoundly deaf, is an assistant professor at an upstate university teaching hearing students.

I have worked with and for people across the country who are deaf or hard of hearing for more than 40 years. I mention these facts to give credibility to my words.

Gallaudet University is not the leading university for the deaf. It might be the oldest, but it is far from the best. Judging by the success of Gallaudet students in the classroom and workplace, Gallaudet is not even a close second to NTID.

To say that Fernandes is “not deaf enough” or doesn’t “use the right kind of communication” is as insulting as it is bigoted. I worked at NTID with a dedicated faculty and staff, deaf and hearing, to enable students who are deaf to reach their potential and become full-fledged members of society. And they have! To have shut themselves in a small enclave a few radicals call “deaf culture” would have insulted the vast numbers of people who are deaf, people who are as heterogeneous as any group in this country.

The dictionary defines culture as the development of intellectual and moral abilities; enlightenment acquired by the study of the fine arts, humanities and the sciences; and the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief and behavior that depends on the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations. Ergo, “deaf culture” is a misnomer!

American Sign Language does not make a culture. When Fernandes spoke in January of expanding Gallaudet to embrace all forms of deafness, and all modes of communication deaf people use to communicate, she ruffled the feathers of a few defensive hermits afraid of sharing, of growing, of becoming.

Most Americans who are deaf or hearing impaired do not embrace American Sign Language as their language of choice. Most parents of deaf children do not embrace ASL as their language of choice. Most employers and educators of deaf people do not embrace ASL as their language of choice.

I have told my son and hundreds of students I have worked with: I care not how you communicate, but that you communicate. I care not what you choose to study, but that you can and do choose. I care not what you choose to do with your life, but that you have choice in life. Embracing a biased, bigoted misnomer called “deaf culture” and an absolute adherence to ASL will only inhibit your participation in society.

Shame on you, Gallaudet trustees, for caving in to threat and for failing to defend the rights of people across this country who are deaf.

Slutzky, of Le Roy, has been a writer since he retired from RIT 10 years ago. E-mail him at jsocsai@gmail.com.

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13 thoughts on “NTID’s Slutzky: Gallaudet Isolating Deaf

  1. As far as I recall, Gallaudet University is and will continue to be the leading University for the Deaf in Liberal Arts for and by the Deaf. You want to compare NTID to Gallaudet?
    In Gallaudet, people do not ask whether or not you speak ASL or English. The information is immediately offered if you know you do not sign up to the standards established on campus. At Gallaudet, American Sign Language is the primary language spoken, English comes second.
    Pray tell me, Herr Slutzky, is that provided at NTID? Is it a place where Deaf people know they can go to and not need an interpreter? To get a refreshing gasp of Deaf Culture air? I know this with all my heart that no other University in this world can Match Gallaudet in terms of providing education in ASL first and English second. There is absolutely no other Universities in this world where ASL is the standard.
    only some idiot like you would enviously say that NTID is a better place than Gallaudet. Only you.
    Si vous pensez vraiment que l’ASL n’etait pas bien pour les sourds, pourquoi l’anglais alors? Pourquoi pas le francais?
    It’s just a language yes?

  2. Tom Willard:

    Good article. Well-said. Exactly what I have read by far and more.

    Thank you for posting that here.
    ~Michelle

  3. Dealbreaker,

    Interesting comments. After all, you’re entitled to your opinions.

    My life has been diverse, I’ll say. I’ve seen and done this. Been here and there. I’ve arrived to this point of my life as a stronger Deaf individual who is not afraid to be who I wish to be, ME. Sure, I use my voice and w/o voice. Sure, I am capable of manipulating levels of ASL with various individuals I cross paths with. Sure, I’ve friends from diverse groups. That’s me. I don’t choose or select a specific group. I flit from group to group. I’ve very strong ties with the Deaf community and lifelong friendships. This is where the real education at life is vital to understanding myself and my unique capabilities.

    The blog site you suggested I read isn’t anything new. I’ve been there…I don’t have a cochlear imlant, but did consider, at one point, getting one for two reasons: Meniere’s Disease while pregnant with my fourth child and for my LOVE of using hearing aid. I know friends who are cochlear users and I do not view them any different than myself. What works for them and makes them feel great is all I care at this point.

    Everyone else views differently how they wish to utilize or not utilize hearing aids as well as to use their voice or not. Depends on the individual what they are capable of and what their hearts desire.

    Life is much more enriching and much more fulfilling in where I am at: interacting in all worlds. It’s a sad shame to isolate onself in one realm of the community. I’ve been there. I just don’t get much out of it. I embrace and get much more out of daring to be me. Then the world can choose to like or dislike me. Their choice, not my loss. Their loss if they choose the latter.

    Sure, my words may be empty, but hey, I love having fun with wordings. Takes one to appreciate the English language.

    I have also worked directly/indirectly with diverse Deaf/hh individuals with diverse language capabilities/backgrounds. It’s been a fascinating road. Enriches me and makes me appreciate every genuine individual that crosses my path.

    I’m not one to condemn Jack. I’ve just merely pointed out that he’s entitled to his opinions afterall, this is a blog site, “freedom of speech”.

    Life up to this point has led me to feel strongly about the importance of ASL and its impact on our lives. It does not hinder our success in the real world.

    I realize looking at the glass half-emtpy gets me nowhere. I look at the glass half-full. Always envisioning what’s out there and envisioning the best out of life.

    One can only choose to be closed minded or open minded in how they view the world. Good luck!
    ~Michelle

  4. Okay, “Dealbreakers,” here are my words that came out in the letter I sent to the Democrat and Chronicle in response to the “eloquent professor’s” drivel:

    November 3, 2006

    Democrat and Chronicle
    55 Exchange Blvd.
    Rochester, NY 14614

    Dear Editor:

    Jack Slutzky’s attempt to deny the existence of deaf culture (Speaking Out, Nov. 3) is one of the most mean-spirited and repugnant things I have ever read.

    “Culture” has many meanings, and Slutzky conveniently overlooked this one: “The customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious or social group.”

    The irony is that deaf people developed their own culture as a response to the sort of insensitivity and discrimination that pervades Slutzky’s essay.

    It is incomprehensible that someone with such a profound disrespect for deaf people was allowed to be an educator of the deaf for 40 years. If nothing else, this helps us to understand the sorry state of deaf education today.

    I have been a deaf journalist for many years and I’ve followed the Gallaudet protest very closely. I can assure you that the protest had nothing to do with Gallaudet’s former president-designate, Jane Fernandes, being “not deaf enough.”

    This was a cynical ploy created by the Gallaudet administration and promoted by the public relations firms they hired, with no regard for the damage they were doing to deaf people everywhere.

    For goodness sakes, retiring President I. King Jordan was late-deafened and, like Fernandes, didn’t learn sign language until he was an adult. But no one cared, and he was embraced by the deaf community – until he tried to impose his will and hand-pick his successor.

    The real reasons for the protest had to do with the underhanded way Fernandes got the job, her dismal track record over 11 years at Gallaudet and her utter lack of personal characteristics for the job. She is a cold, aloof and vindictive advocate of management by intimidation.

    Did you know she dismissed the school librarian just one week before the woman’s 30th employment anniversary, denying her an immediate pension? Did you know she had campus police barge in on a counseling session after two campus murders, telling students to come to her office immediately, only to cancel the meeting when they arrived?

    She even threatened the Gallaudet board of trustees in an email that was leaked to The Washington Post, warning them that Congress would investigate their failures if they were to dismiss her. To their credit, they ignored her threats and sent her packing.

    But Slutzky’s misunderstanding of the Gallaudet protest pales in comparison to the contempt in which he holds the deaf community.

    Perhaps he can be excused because he is obviously a very ignorant person. But what is the Democrat and Chronicle’s excuse for printing such an offensive, hate-filled piece?

    Tom Willard
    Rochester, NY
    tomwillard99@aol.com

    (Tom Willard is editor of Deafweekly and owner of Canal Street Press)

  5. If you think ASL isn’t a part of Deaf Culture, or important, I would like you to ask yourself this question:

    Is it okay to speak broken English? Is it okay to not know English in America? How would a hearing person look at another hearing person if he/she spoke bad English? Honestly, think about it.

    People do not hire people with bad english to a high-ranking job. You don’t see the president of the USA speaking broken English. You do not see CEOs’ of companies speaking broken English.

    Now, apply this to ASL. If a Deaf person sees another Deaf person that doesn’t sign in proper ASL, it is equal to hearing/seeing broken English.

    A culture itself involves language, art, history, and etc. If you take away the proper language of a culture- say for example, Japanese culture- it wouldn’t be a culture, because it is missing one of the required compotents of a culture.

    The same is true about ASL and Deaf culture. Hearing people like you like to reduce ASL to nothing. I’m sick of audists like you. You think your speaking language is superior to ASL. You think “just to communicate” is good enough. That’s demented!

    If you cannot recognize that, you are an audist.

    If you are not Deaf, then you have NO credibility, NO determination, and NO right to make such a judgement about a community that is NOT YOURS. Get it?

    I went to both NTID and Gallaudet at a point in my life. I can assure you that it is true that in some areas, Gallaudet is not up to par. But NTID is not up to par in other areas. Since you have not taught at Gallaudet or attended Gallaudet, you do not have the credibility to make such a statement.

    “To be a full fledged member of society”. Screw you. While most hearing people are audists like you, it is difficult to be a “full fledged member of society”.

    Deaf or not, we all ARE a full fledged member of society. To determine that they are not, because they are oppressed is audistic itself. That was an audistic statement, and unacceptable.

    You’re a bigot yourself, you just don’t see it. If you want to understand better, you should read this article:

    http://www.raa-deaf.org/sandbox1.html

    P.s. If you truly were ‘in touch’ with the situation at Gallaudet, you would realize that “Not Deaf Enough” was a spin done by Gallaudet’s PR office. So here’s another sucker- you.

  6. Oy. I could tell you quite a few stories of incompetent, uneducated, and unemployed former students/graduates of NTID. I could never understand the elitist attitudes of people on both ends–saying…Gallaudet is better, NTID is better. Who cares? They’re different universities and offer different types of education. NTID is a technical college, Gallaudet is a liberal arts college.

    I graduated from Gallaudet. I had friends who grew up orally and learned ASL at Gallaudet. I had friends who wear cochlear implants. I had friends who went to mainstreamed programs. They’ve always been at Gallaudet, and honestly–I saw very little oppression or “making fun” of these people by the ones you are calling “Deaf culture elitists.” If anything, I’ve found that Deaf of Deaf people are MORE accepting of diversity than any other group of Deaf people. Oh, and I’m speaking from personal experience, as a teacher, as a mentor, and as an advocate for Deaf rights…and I’m Deaf and part of a great culture called Deaf Culture.

  7. Michelle, you used a whole lot words to say nothing at

    all. Tom, your words couldn’t even come out, just a

    stab at the eloquent Professor.

    Here’s what matters. Here’s what you’ve done:
    https://bibliomarket.wordpress.com/2006/11/03/deaf-yale

    -students-face-unique-challenges/

    To summarize: ASL users such as Gallaudetians are mean

    -spirited losers who belittle and shun the smart CI

    wearer oralists, who then grow up to be fabulously

    successful including going to Yale. That’s what the

    general public learned from the news in October 2006.

  8. Again and again and again and again. I am so sick and tired of people not understanding what this protest was all about. I knew Jack Slutzky when I was a student and I am not surprised he got it all wrong.

  9. To Jack, “an ole friend of Stu”, and dealbreakers:

    If you had done your homework by following the blogs all along from varied sources, you’d not be questioning or stating the statements above. Not just from the past month, but over the year and so forth.

    Granted, everyone is entitled to their own thoughts/opinions. I have posted plenty of comments on varied blogs. I commend you for posting here, too.

    I am a former graduate of NTID/RIT. I have been in the CFAA (old name back in ’93). I have managed to succeed in the world on my own from strong roots acredited to my Deaf family who believed I could be anything my heart set out to be. Granted, I didn’t find my answer in college and decided my best lesson at life would be learned outside of the classroom with a BFA. Sure, I have crossed paths with Jack and he has not had a hand in where I am today. I am glad you had a hand in others you say you helped reach their achievement at life.

    I have met plenty of Gallaudet post-grads as well as diverse colleges grads abroad and can say everyone do eventually succeed on their own unique way. Their own set of determination and goals they set out to excel comes from within. Not from the roots of college. College, wherever they choose to attend, does play a vital part in their lives, indeed. But, the bottom line, it’s the sole individual who seizes the opportunities in front of him/her and makes the best of it. It’s the sole individual who dares to dream and braves the face of adversity with challenge.

    However, Deaf I may be, and capable of using my voice as well as a fluent ASLer, I do support the cause based on solid facts presented from reliable sources. I do applaud for the world coming together, such diverse backgrounds/communities and occupations.

    Thanks for posting such an article. Yet, I have to agree to disagree. After all, I am always for proactive measures. If you read or visit Joey Baer’s vlog: http://www.joeybaer.com/?p=62 From his vlog, that is what I envision to be a real community, the diverse community of diverse backgrounds coming together and acknowledging our differences. Yet, appreciating our differences as we all contribute to life in diverse ways.

    A true leader “listens” and finds a common ground to interact with all. To build a true sense of rapport, one must truly invest oneself to carefully listen. Constructive feedbacks and criticisms builds a better leader who is capable of empathy. Reading by far, I have not seen one shred of evidence pointing Jane into that bright light. I am waiting for that bright light shone this way to exonerate her and make me a true believer. The “not Deaf enough” card is old news.

    Well, regardless, we ALL are entitled to our say in this life.

    ~Michelle

  10. Bravo Professor Slutzky! Your caring for your son and your students is a golden example. The “82%” down here keep insisting that because they’re bigger, louder and more intimidating, they are *right.* Proof of their individual grudges against JKF and IJK is all over the web. It’s sour grapes, not “culture.” It *is* all about “deaf enough.” Kathleen Wood helpfully published that exact evidence in yesterdays’s Washington Post. Kelby Brick drove it home in today’s Baltimore Sun. Faculty members are currently trying to “decide” what the right kind of “deaf enough” interim and permanent President will be acceptable to the mob. Future campus shutdowns are not ruled out, because these “teachers” are modeling the attitude that “being listened to” means “exerting total control.” They can’t even wait for the next excuse to inflict more damage. They are already debating whether to barricade the gates again on Monday if IKJ is not thrown off campus immediately!

    Professor, you should be proud of contributing to NTID’s success. The professors down here have instead manipulated the students for their own selfish goals. Granted the students share plenty of blame, but they obviously had no help with thinking skills in their education by such teachers. Some of us are ready to house- and job-hunt up in Rochester. What are the options in K-12 deaf education around there? I’m sad to conclude that my children and perhaps grandchildren should not soil their resumes with Gallaudet diplomas. Can we reach out for a Rochester “GU survivor’s welcome committee?”

  11. Hi, I was an old friend of your son, Stu, at RIT in the early 1990’s. I agree with your comments and now my children are the students at a midwest school for the deaf and they are getting teased for wearing hearing aids (they love hearing… they love listening to the music, etc.) What is interesting is the teasing come from the deaf students from deaf families. Anyway, I do encourage my kids to talk and to sing, along with signing at home. So I am thinking… there is a hearing world out there, and from my understanding, about 80% of deaf children are mainstreamed, and mostly oral. We need to focus on meeting their needs… that they have some kind of language to communicate… any language, not only ASL. Jane F. did a right thing… by having some kind of goals to open up Gallaudet to more variety of deaf people.

    Now I have no idea about Jane’s experiences as a provest, but I am sure being the provist was a tough job, calling for disciplining actions… that would make any provists look “unfriendly” and “unfair”. I just hope that the selection of the next Gallaudet U. president would still be willing to help Gallaudet embrace other deaf people, especially those who don’t know ASL.

    Thanks for hearing me out…

  12. Oh boy!!! again, again, again It is not about her not deaf enough!!!!…you hearing people didn’t do your homework first. You need to check blogs about her working as a provost there for six years. I fully support the protest even though I didn’t attend Gallaudet…I graduated from NTID. I guess it will have to take to be Deaf to understand. (No offense)

  13. I am a Gallaudet alumni. What irks me about the whole protest is how many people believed JKF and Gallaudet’s PR and the media that it’s all about her “not being deaf enough”. The students have never said that (maybe a few did say it, but not the majority, and it’s not the point of the protest). I have my own personal reasons for not supporting Jane, including her inability to support and lead us in the aftermath of the murders in 2000 and 2001. Everybody else has their own personal reasons as well, but the main message from the FSSA from the start has always been that we are protesting because we feel the search process was flawed and we do not like JKF’s leadership. This is evident through the many letters that were sent by JKF’s former co-workers and students that cited specific examples of how JKF divided the community and destroyed many successful programs. Even back when JKF was promoted to provost 6 years ago, the faculty voted “no confidence” in her, but nothing was done.

    It is sad that the media has kept pushing the “not deaf enough” story and not the students’ side of the story. The students were at a huge disadvantage here because Gallaudet can afford to provide interpreters for their own PR interviews, etc., while news reporters never brought their own interpreter to interview students, and students usually cannot afford one, therefore they had to rely on volunteer interpreters or writing back and forth.

    I agree with you that Gallaudet University may not be the best university for the deaf. We want the best president so that Gallaudet CAN become a better university. When 82% of the faculty do not support the president, how can a university become better?

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