President Emeritus of the Absolutes

Gallaudet’s “President Emeritus” once again uses the Washington Post to poke a stick at not only the protesters that succeeded in having Jane Fernandes’ appointment to President revoked by the Board of Trustees, but at recent history as well. It wasn’t enough that he used the media to spread his and Jane’s false propaganda about her being ‘not deaf enough’ – now he wants to try writing some revisionist history. In today’s Wahington Post, he says:

“There is a very small but vocal group of deaf people who define the community narrowly. I call this group the “absolutists.” They believe you are either deaf or you are not. You are either a supporter of ASL or you are not deaf. You either refuse to consider cochlear implants or you are not deaf. Many of our students, faculty and alumni who consider themselves deaf (including some born deaf to deaf families) would not be considered deaf by the absolutists.”

Absolute Bullshit.

If I.K. Jordan had taken the time to come down and visit and chat with the protesters, and taken the time to actually observe and listen, he would have discovered that the ‘small but very vocal group’ of protesters were not only DEAF. They were deaf, hearing, hard-of-hearing, cochlear wearing, non-cochlear wearing, deaf-blind, and of every color in the family of man. They were signers, non-signers, lip-readers, non-lip-readers, ASLians, non ASLians, Cuers, non-Cuers, SEEers, non-SEEers. They came from all points of this globe we call Earth. In support of Deaf Culture and Gallaudet’s history, they flew in from Australia, Asia, Europe, South America. They drove from all over the USA and Canada. They came, even as the ‘King’ declared Homecoming cancelled in an effort to quiet them. They marched, 4,000 strong, to the Capitol, peacefully. They were blessed with a perfect vision for Gallaudet, all-inclusive of the whole spectrum of deafness.

If there is anyone guilty of absolutist thinking, it is the King himself, and his Queen, and their very small, but vocal group of revisionist history writers, attempting to engage not in a dialogue of inclusiveness and strength, but in divisiveness and smear campaigns. A President Emeritus should care deeply for the institution he once led, and engage in coalition-building. This man, I.K. Jordan, who calls himself President Emeritus of Gallaudet, is not worthy to wear such a lofty title as long as he continues to spread simple lies instead of examining the complex truths.

Ken @ BiblioMarket

Deaf Culture and Gallaudet

By I. King Jordan
Monday, January 22, 2007; A19

When I announced that I was stepping down as president of Gallaudet University, I spoke of the health of the university and said that Gallaudet was well positioned for the future. Sadly, this may no longer be the case.

I have been a member of the Gallaudet community for 36 years and was privileged to serve as president for nearly 19 years. I strove to carry out Gallaudet’s mission and vision. During my presidency, Gallaudet’s endowment increased from $5 million to more than $175 million, and every year we had a balanced budget; facilities were added, including a state-of-the-art student academic center; new graduate and undergraduate academic programs were developed; and outstanding administrators, faculty and staff members were recruited, many of them deaf. Gallaudet increasingly attracted students with higher academic credentials.

All indications were that Gallaudet, a global educational and cultural center for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, was positioned to become even stronger.

We had a vision for an inclusive deaf university in which everyone is valued and respected and that offers educational programs to an increasingly diverse population of deaf, hard-of-hearing, deaf-blind and hearing students. A major priority in our strategic plan was to preserve Gallaudet’s rich cultural heritage and promote the study and appreciation of Deaf culture, deaf history and American Sign Language (ASL).

The board and I shared the conviction that our strategic goals and plans must drive how we allocate and use resources. When the board selected Jane Fernandes to be Gallaudet’s ninth president, it assured that the university would continue on the course we had set. I am convinced that the board made a serious error in acceding to the demands of the protesters by terminating Fernandes’s presidency before it began. Key board members have resigned, signaling their disagreement with the direction the board has taken.

A visiting team from the Middle States Association’s Commission on Higher Education made clear in its exit report to the campus community this month that closing a university and denying the free exchange of ideas is not an acceptable expression of disagreement. If this were to occur again, it stated, there would be “dire consequences” from Middle States with respect to the university’s accreditation.

Frankly, what is happening at Gallaudet is a struggle between defining the deaf community in narrow, exclusive terms or in broad, inclusive terms. There is a very small but vocal group of deaf people who define the community narrowly. I call this group the “absolutists.” They believe you are either deaf or you are not. You are either a supporter of ASL or you are not deaf. You either refuse to consider cochlear implants or you are not deaf. Many of our students, faculty and alumni who consider themselves deaf (including some born deaf to deaf families) would not be considered deaf by the absolutists.

Deaf people who have such strong positions are an important part of the deaf community. But they are only one group, and their thinking cannot lead Gallaudet. Their vision does not reflect our university’s vision of Gallaudet as an “Inclusive Deaf University” — a vision that Gallaudet’s board discussed at length and endorsed enthusiastically.

With the swirl about culture and the definition of the “deaf community” dominating the discussion, the message about academic excellence and the future of Gallaudet has been lost. The focus is primarily on culture. Gallaudet’s role in leading Deaf culture is important, but Deaf culture cannot lead Gallaudet. Academics and the academic achievements of our students must lead Gallaudet.

Since Jan. 1, Gallaudet has had an interim president. The board members’ choice of a permanent president will have long-lasting implications for the university. Many people outside Gallaudet believe the board will be voting to elect a “mayor” of the deaf community. The conversation “out there” has been more about popularity or role models than about academic leadership.

I understand this because of the way I became president and the way I did my job. When the Deaf President Now revolution led to my selection in 1988, I was thrust into two roles — university president and spokesman for the deaf community. I trust I have been successful in both roles. Any success I had as a spokesman for people who are deaf came only because I was first and foremost a strong academic leader. Had I not been a successful president, I could not have been a positive spokesman.

The university is as strong as it has ever been, but to thrive in the 21st century, Gallaudet must adapt to the needs of our students and the larger deaf community and to changes in society. We face a choice between a narrow view of our world and one that is more inclusive. If we give in to the absolutists, Gallaudet’s future will be severely, and adversely, affected.

It is essential to Gallaudet’s survival that the board, and everyone at the university, refocus on an inclusive vision for the university that aspires to academic excellence and respects Deaf culture.

The writer is president emeritus of Gallaudet University.

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9 thoughts on “President Emeritus of the Absolutes

  1. How, exactly, did the protesters act, blondel?

    Don’t you find it odd that the White House gave an F for the PART from 2000-2005, which is the same year IKJ announced his retirement? And JKF given poor evaluation every year? It was very clear her leadership was ineffective and there was just no way she could be afforded another chance to display her leadership. They ignored many concerned issues on the campus, which caused a lot of frustrations and anger amongst the fac/staff/students/parents.


  2. I agree with King Jordan all the way.
    After what the protesters acted, the media and publicity went for Jordan strongly.


  3. Ken,

    This is a truly great response! Yes, please do include your entire response, word for word, in your letter to the editor, with one tiny exception. Replace the word “bullshit” with “nonsense” or “hogwash.” I think you made a powerful impact with “Absolute bullshit,” tho.


  4. I tried to include the URLs of this site and MZ’s over there…but they were removed.

    Also, my post looked messed up.

    Oh great, I looked like a retarded commenter. *sigh*

    I did not include more information…but I think you, Ken, and MZ could do a lot better job on that!


  5. I couldn’t believe this level of craziness that IKJ imposed himself as a former spokesman of Gallaudet University and the Deaf community. Any good psychologist differentiates between levels in the pursuit of happiness we the Deaf are entertaining. Gallaudet University is our happiness; the IKJ-JKF administration was NOT!


  6. Ok, I was just calming down after posting at MZ’s…only to breath in brown bag again in an attempt to get some oxygen to my brain!!

    *tries to remember days of labor breathing techniques* Oh *bleep* that…that never worked!

    Gallaudet’s future was already severed and effected PRIOR to the protest – and the protesters bought that to light, amongst other issues, including Jane’s ineffective leadership!

    You know, it’s such a blessing Davila was selected – silencing those who critized us, the protesters and supporters, for not wanting Jane because of her background.

    Oh, excuse me – now it’s because he’s a man! *rolleyes*

    What’s the matter, IKJ, you’re not having a good time in Italy, that you had to write this letter?


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