* note: I wrote this shortly after Dr. Davila was selected to become Gallaudet’s President. I thought a good look back was warranted given the great strides Dr. Davila has made in his brief term.
I came across a 1927 yearbook from Drake University while browsing in my bookstore today and spent a couple hours looking at pictures of students, faculty, and campus. It was fun to see the clothes, the hairstyles, the fraternities and sororities, the clubs, athletics, and so forth and try to imagine the political climate of that campus 80 years ago.
I became curious about the more recent history of the University. Going online, I found a series of articles on Drake, which incidentally celebrated it’s 125th anniversary this year. In one article, there was this:
The 1960s brought about more significant changes in student culture. For much of its life, Drake was a traditional, patriarchal institution in which administration and faculty made the majority of decisions about the campus.
The new generation of students, however, wanted more control over their destiny. As social unrest related to the Vietnam War grew, students became increasingly frustrated with an administration they believed was unwilling to listen to them.
In 1968, more than 800 students marched on Old Main and demanded more participation in engineering their academic lives and less interference by the University in their private lives. The students held protest signs with slogans such as “Administration (to Student): Grow Up. Student: Let Me!”
In response, President Paul Sharp reworked the University’s administration and hired Donald V. Adams to be Drake’s first vice president of student life. Adams served as a trusted ambassador between frustrated students and traditionalists in the faculty and administration. Unlike many other institutions, Drake avoided serious riots during the difficult time and held several memorable peace conferences in 1969 discussing race, social and gender issues.
By the 1970s and ’80s, student unrest calmed. Yearbook pictures show men in their underwear holding cans of beer. Floors of residence halls were nicknamed everything from “Middle Earth” in homage to J.R. Tolkien to “Unwed Mothers of Alcatraz,” in homage to, well, it’s best not to know.
In the 1990s, the Internet came to the world — and to Drake — changing the way students communicated and even attended class. Today, the student body and the faculty are more diverse — both in race and thought —than ever.
I thought to myself, …Yes, this is it – this is what we need. We need a trusted ambassador between Gallaudet’s students and the Administration. We need someone well-respected by both students and administration to broker a lasting peace. There are many, many unsettled grievances flowing both ways, from protesters towards administration, and from administration to protesters….
Yes, protesters closed the University down for three days, and took over Hall Memorial Building, and stormed College Hall for a few hours early one morning. The protesters felt, and I agree with them, that more drastic measures needed to be taken to get the attention focused on the issue of Fernandes’ failure to effectively lead and administrate in her long history at Gallaudet. Yet, through it all, the tactics chosen by the protest leaders were always peaceful. These tactics were civil disobedience, not “malicious violence wrecked upon the campus by a mob,” as the administration attempted to paint it in the media. Thoreau said “Anyone in a free society where the laws are unjust has an obligation to break the law.” I modify that and say “Any student in a University where the administrators are unjust has an obligation to break the stalemate by civil disobedience.” Ryan Commerson understood this. That is why he stood up on May 1st and told the assembled crowd that if they disagreed with the appointment of Fernandes, they should walk out. And they did. And now, here we are.
Right now, the issue of reprisals is foremost in our minds. These severe and harsh reprisals are being carried out by an administrative branch, the Judaical system, and in that system are two men who have, through many years at Gallaudet, earned for themselves the distrust and scorn of students. More than two decades of history with these two men has shown us they cannot be trusted. I speak of Hillel Goldberg and Carl Pramuk.
This will not do. As long as the reprisals are carried out by these two men, the protesters will not be fairly treated. The administration has wronged and injured protesters with their various tactics such as a war of words and lies and distortion in the media, spreading fertilizer in tent city, bulldozing Mt. Bison tent dwellers, macing deaf students in their eyes, and so many other wrongs. How then, can protesters be fairly tried and judged by those in this corrupt administration? No, this will NOT do.
Likewise, those in Jordan’s administration feel they have been wronged by protesters. To be sure, there have been isolated incidents of wrongs committed by certain dimwitted protesters, such as the defacing of the I.K. Jordan sign on the student academic building. That, and some other isolated incidences were unnecessary acts, done in the heat of the moment. Yes, such individuals should be punished, but fairly. To punish all, for the acts of a few, is misguided and vile.
If reprisals are to stand as they are now, then all students who supported the protest should stand firmly together and make the Board of Trustees and the Jordan Administration hear them by boycotting Gallaudet for at least one or two semesters. Take the time off, and deprive Gallaudet of some of the funds that would normally flow in from Congress and your tuition and fees. Yes, this is a drastic act, and will delay your education briefly, but it is also an act of civil disobedience, and a declaration of independence.
Reprisals, -if any-, should be carried out by Dr. Davila’s new administration, with an ambassador trusted by both sides, placed in the role of brokering a peace, and punishments to fit the misdeeds agreed to and accepted by BOTH parties in this conflict. Unilateral punishments such as jobs and housing stripped away by I.K. Jordan, is NOT acceptable. Jordan, with one foot already outside the door, ready to sprint away on Dec 31, quickly declarcing punishments on any and all protesters who participated in lifting their hands and voices in the air, and yet, himself and his people guilty of many wrongs against the protesters, get a free pass? This administration surely would not accept unilateral punishments handed down to them by the SBG or the FSSA – how then should protesters be expected to accept punishment from those who wronged them to begin with? Dr. Davila should be the one to handle the punishments on both sides. If protesters are punished, then administrators acting under Jordan’s orders must be punished as well, and just as harshly and severely as protesters. If stripping jobs away from protesters is deemed fair, then jobs must be stripped from those guilty persons within the Jordan administration. If housing should be stripped from protesters, then something equally drastic should be stripped from those within the administration guilty of wrongs. If protesters are to be held accountable, then, so too must those in Jordan’s administration be held accountable.
copyright @ Kenneth G. Samson, 2006
~ by Kenneth Samson on December 18, 2006.