Mr. Sandman's Sandbox

The musings of a Deaf Californian on life, politics, religion, sex, and other unmentionables. This blog is not guaranteed to lead to bon mots appropriate for dinner-table conversation; make of it what you will.

Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A Celebration

Tonight we celebrated a Very Important Milestone: the successful passage of the California Bar Exam. Yep, my beloved wife, who has labored and struggled for weeks and months towards the goal of conquering one of the toughest, if not the toughest, bar exams in the nation received word the other day that she's now officially eligible to be the butt of lawyer jokes (Quick! Heard any good ones lately??).

As an extremely proud spouse, I escorted her to a celebratory dinner at Trader Vic's, advertised as the "home of the Mai Tai." Yes, we had the obligatory mai tais, along with appetizers, dinner, and dessert. I chose the restaurant because it is just down the street from our humble abode, and we have passed by it countless times. Well, now the mystery of what's behind those Polynesian-themed walls is over.

While I'm still figuring out what I want to be When I Grow Up (yeah, I'm a writer, but I need a day job til I become the next Dan Brown), at least one person in our household is an adult, and about to re-join the working world. Congratulations, dear, on a job well done.

Monday, May 22, 2006

My Value Is Your Value

When it comes to current affairs, I consider myself fairly well-read. Maybe not as obsessive as some, and I certainly don't do this for a living (although anyone reading this that wants to pay me for reading and analyzing stuff online, give me a call), but I do keep up with events as they happen and try to read a broad range of materials.

That said, I'm not a fan of Republicans, conservatives, or right-wingers, and I tend to avoid their pieces, blogs, and venues for the most part. But I do check in from time to time, just to get a sense of what the other side is thinking, or to take their pulse on a particular issue. This includes occasionally sneaking over the fence into Free Republic, or checking out an esoteric blog here and there. When it comes to "mainstream" publications, such as Time or Newsweek, I read some columnists who span the entire range of the political spectrum (why is it that nearly every conservative writer out there is an aging white male? Oh, wait a minute-- I *am* an aging white male!). One such columnist I read every now and then is George Will.

Generally, Will and I do not see eye to eye on a lot of issues, but he wrote a column last week that I thought was particularly good. In "Who Isn't a 'Values Voter'?," Will chides conservatives and the Corporate Media for reserving the label "values voter" and "values voting" for certain issues "owned" by social conservatives. As Will points out, it "is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values..." Funny, that. Each time I write my opinion up in this blog, or dash off a letter to the editor, or carefully choose a candidate to vote for, I thought I was assessing my values and demonstrating my support of those values. My values (and the principles behind them) reflect my beliefs and my emotional and ethical commitment to issues and concerns in society that I'm involved in. But according to social conservatives and their media lapdogs, I apparently don't have any opinions, principles, or any kind of investment in the workings of our society.

When I argue for universal healthcare or healthcare reform in general, that's a value. When I disagree with capital gains tax cuts and corporate welfare, that's a value. When I advocate for deaf rights, that's a value. My casting a ballot in favor of these issues is just as much "values voting" as the social conservative who heads to the polls to formalize their opinions on religion, homosexuality, marriage, and abortion. Just because my neighbors and fellow citizens may disagree with me doesn't give them the corner on being "holier than thou;" as Will states, "The phrase "values voters"... subtracts from social comity by suggesting that one group has cornered the market on moral seriousness," and a complicit Corporate Media "are furthering the fiction that these voters are somehow more morally awake than others."

I agree- I remember reading something somewhere about casting stones at glass houses. So-called "values voters" should think twice about using labels to put themselves on a pedestal, and the Corporate Media should also follow suit by not taking the lazy way out and stereotyping or labeling various groups based solely on a certain set of ethics and beliefs, and thus suggesting no one else has values.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Cheers for Communication

Last night I attended a dear friend's birthday party; I was looking forward to it, not only because it was an opportunity to celebrate my friend's birthday, but it was also going to be great to see some other friends again as well. The organizer, my friend's husband, chose a bar based on internet buzz. Only one or two in the group of attendees had ever been there, though I didn't know that at the time.

I was the first to arrive, and found it to be a fairly small bar, and very, very dark. After unsuccessfully finding anyone there, I staggered back out, thinking, "Jeez, what a dark bar. I wonder if T realizes it's going to be damn hard to sign in there??" Soon the birthday girl and her hubby appeared, and I relayed to them the bar's atmosphere. We entered and found it comfortable, if very dark.

But what happened next was a pleasant surprise. As we seated ourselves and saw the waitress approach to take our orders, we grabbed the drink list like good little deafies, ready to point and gesture in order to make our wishes known. But then, the waitress *signed*.

Yep, she not only signed, it wasn't the usual "Oh, H-I! I know A-B-C..." No, it was a smooth full sentence-- "HI! What you want drink?" *thud* (jaw dropping to the floor) Turns out she's an interpreter (or aspiring interpreter?). She'd taken courses at Golden West and Pierce College, and even better, had pretty good receptive skills. We were of course delighted. Soon that astonishment turned to even more good fortune: the waitress was soon joined by one of the bartenders, who also signed. Not one, but two people in the same business could communicate with us, sans paper, pen, or pointed fingers!

Needless to say, we all enjoyed interacting with the waitress, and informing partygoers who joined us through the evening of our communication access. Naturally we left a good tip, and discussed possibly getting together again at the same establishment on a regular basis. I don't know if that'll happen-- I hope it does. But all I could say at the end of the evening other than what a wonderful party it was, and three cheers for the birthday gal, was to add cheers for communication. Just wish this was more the norm than the rare exception!

Friday, May 19, 2006

Adieu to History

Nothing lasts forever, not even the earth. Our planet is shaped by elemental forces: wind, water, fire. Islands emerge, mountains erode, rivers change course. So why should we expect the every day realities of our lives to remain the same? Some of us welcome change; others don't handle it very well (my mother's in this latter category!). I am usually pragmatic about changes in our society, perhaps because as a historian, I'm all too aware of how ephemeral our institutions and traditions can be. Still, quite a few things have happened lately that I've taken notice of.

The first is the recent death earlier this month of the last U.S. survivor of the Titanic, Lillian Asplund. She was the last survivor who could clearly remember what happened that fateful night in April of 1912. This is in contrast to last month's celebration/remembrance of the San Francisco Earthquake (for a great first-person account of the 100th anniversary, by a deaf non-1906 survivor, see here). Granted, the earthquake affected a large area and consequently there are/were more survivors, but it's still a marker of human memory when all living survivors of a historical event have passed. That's not to say that the Titanic is now a remote historical footnote: in recent years we've had tons of movies, commemorations, books, and the like about the ship. In fact, the day the article came out, I was watching a TV show on A&E or PBS or something similar about some DNA researchers trying to determine the identity of Titanic victims buried in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Kind of a spooky coincidence... The program, by the by, detailed the attempt to determine the identity of three victims, but ultimately succeeded with only one: the famed "Unknown Child," which turned out to be a one-year-old Finnish baby.

Anyway, as I was saying, it isn't a remote memory, not by far: anyone who lives in the U.S. or taken a U.S. History survey knows just how "recent" the Civil War is in our collective memories. There are re-enactments all the time all over the Southeast and in the Mid-Atlantic region, there are historical groups (this link is actually a good one; it's disgusting how developers are choosing greed over history) and commemorative groups, and people all over the South with Confederate flags on their cars and pickups. Yet all the soldiers have been dead for quite some time, and there is no one now living who can actually remember the years 1861-65. Yet it's recent enough that while it isn't living memory, it's certainly living history. For example, I knew my uncle while he was alive, and he told me when I was a little boy about listening to *his* grandfather's friend recount tales of being a drummer boy in the Civil War. So while neither my uncle nor I were alive in the mid-19th century, the Civil War wasn't some abstract event for us.

While I don't see people re-enacting the sinking of the Titanic anytime soon, there are enthusiasts, writers, and all sorts of groups out there that collect artifacts, write books and articles, conduct DNA searches (as I detailed above!), and hold meetings, build models, and publish newsletters that exhaustively detail and analyze every possible fact that can be found about the sinking of a superliner more than 90 years ago.

Some soon-to-be aspects of history aren't as widely known. Some center around local institutions, in the case of another upcoming departure from this earth. In this case, it's Cody's Books in Berkeley; the flagship store on Telegraph Avenue just south of Cal (UC Berkeley for you non-locals) is due to close its doors forever two months from now. This saddens me, because I'm a bibliophile, and I've always enjoyed independent bookstores, whether they sell recent and current works or they barter in used books. Telegraph has long been a haunt of mine when I was in Berkeley for that very reason: within a couple of blocks, you had Cody's, Moe's and Shakespeare & Co. I could (and have) spent an entire afternoon just wandering in and out of these three bookstores, and others as well. Independent bookstores are a dying breed in a lot of places. So what's so important about Cody's?

Well, to put it into perspective, Cody's is to Berkeley what Powell's is to Portland, Oregon, and Dutton's is to Brentwood, here in Los Angeles. Although it's primarily a used bookstore, The Strand in NYC is a similarly hallowed institution. While anyone can go to Borders (and yes, I do go there) or Barnes & Noble, it's just not the same. You have people in Borders and its ilk who simply work there because it's a paycheck. It's not the same at places like Cody's, where the owners, the clerks, and the staff actually read the books, can help you locate titles or find similar works, and don't neccessarily have to rely on a computer to do so. Sure, you don't get cut-rate prices, but then again, it isn't always about price. Sometimes it's about pride in the business, knowledge in its products, and a unique identity that you can't find elsewhere. I doubt I'll be able to make it up to Berkeley before July, and I'm not sure I'd want to-- wakes are fine, but not when you enter a bookstore only to see the best materials already taken, and remnants strewn all over. I'll mourn Cody's, and continue to do my best to patronize independent stores of all kinds (not just books!) when possible. I can get the cookie-cutter experience anytime, anyplace-- it's the local restaurants, shops, and bookstores that define a city or town.

Finally, the iconic Phillips 76 ball (yes, *that* orange ball with the blue 76 in the center!) is going the way of the dinosaurs (which now constitute the source for petroleum, which is soon also going the way of the dinosaurs). ConocoPhillips, 76's parent company, is replacing the familiar orange globe with flat signs of the type you find at gas stations everywhere in America. While I am not loyal to any one brand (I've always been loyal to price more than brand, especially now that companies are being concentrated more and more into conglomerates composed of many companies), I frequented 76 in my early days of driving, simply because my parents also patronized 76 (it's kind of like how if your parents use Colgate or Crest when you're growing up, you're more likely to use it when you're an adult as well). It didn't hurt that the 76 in the town I grew up in in rural Northern California was one of the very few left that actually provided full service, where an employee would come over and fill up your tank, check the air and water, and wash your windows (of course, this meant a higher price paid overall, which had dissuaded me from going to full service all the time). While they didn't wear sparkly bright uniforms with caps and bowties, it was still nice to have the kind of service that disappeared 40 years ago.

I also enjoyed seeing the familiar ball during the day, standing out among the flat signs for all the other gas stations. This was especially true at night, when it would glow up, a bright orange beacon in the night sky. Those little antenna balls were great too-- now that I think about it, I should stop by the 76 down on the corner and see if they have one or know where I can get one. Not all the balls are down yet; if you care at all about keeping this particular icon of advertising history alive, check out this website, Save the 76 Ball, where you can also sign a petition. While I'm not a fan of petitions (they aren't always all that effective), I've signed it.

As time passes, we'll see more and more departures: WWI veterans are few and far between; soon it'll be our grandparents who survived the Depression and WWII, and then succeeding generations. As our society morphs more and more into an indistinguishable homogenized version of Anywhere, U.S.A., you'll see further sterilization of our culture and society, as more Cody's and more 76's die off, and become one blended bland version of modern life. Adieu to our past, and adieu to history.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

She's Got Balls

Despite the title of this post, nope, this has nothing to do with Jane Fernandes or the mess at Gallaudet. It's merely this small item I spotted while putting the finishing touches on yesterday's post, about a woman who used her bare hands to rip off a very sensitive portion of her husband's anatomy. You can read about this here (and here, if for some reason the first link disappears).

As a proud member of the male sex and gender, I'm definitely wincing. I'm flashing back to Lorena Bobbitt, and thanking my lucky stars I have a wife who loves and respects *all* of me. If you're a man, you'll understand where I'm coming from- we guys wince, and then don't talk about this. If you're a woman, you may be sitting there bemused. In the meantime, I'm happy to know modern medicine ensured the poor guy is intact once again...

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Framing the Stalemate: What Now, Gallaudet?

In my last two posts on Gallaudet, I first examined the general background of how the current protest evolved up to May 12. I then analyzed some of the key issues/talking points. Now I'd like to discuss where the students, FSSA, and the community at large needs to go from here.

Before I begin though, I'd like to address one point I find rather illogical and intolerant. I've been told a few times, both here and elsewhere, that because I have not been on campus in the last two weeks, nor have I ever had any personal experience with Fernandes or Gallaudet of recent years, that my arguments, comments, or discussions of any aspect of the current crisis is, in one gadfly's words, "invalid."

Let's see... many alumni who passionately support FSSA, sent money, letters, and verbal ammunition to the protesters at Gallaudet have not been on campus in years, and few of them had any personal contact with or prior knowledge of Fernandes. Does that mean their comments, arguments, and suggestions are "invalid"?

Look at it from another perspective: During the 1950's and 60's, many blacks and some whites supported the Civil Rights Movement all over the nation. Not everyone lived in the South, or bore the full brunt of racist reactions to civil disobedience, such as the dogs and firehoses in Birmingham. Does the fact that they were not directly in harm's way invalidate their solidarity, silence their voices?

A more recent example is Iraq. Does the fact that one has not ever served in the military, nor ever been in the Middle East disqualify them from sharing an opinion, advocating the war, or supporting withdrawal?

I think that in a country whose Constitution celebrates freedom of speech (despite what our government is doing to subvert our constitutional rights), I have just as much freedom to share my opinion as anyone else.

As far as not demonstrating a lot of passion in my posts or being pissed off, I know it doesn't show. But if I wasn't this engaged or pissed off, I wouldn't be devoting a chunk of my time to outlining what's been going on and offering my thoughts and unsolicited advice (of which there's plenty in this post!).

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. Since my last post, two key developments took place: (1) graduation and the end of the academic year, and (2) the announcement by the Board of Trustees that Jane Fernandes had resigned her position as Provost in order to begin the "transition to her presidency." The immediate impact of the two events means that Tent City has been more or less dismantled, with most students heading home or off to jobs for the summer, and that the BOT has signaled their refusal to consider the demands of FSSA.

So far, FSSA and its supporters have shown no inclination to back down from the conditions they've set for Fernandes and the BOT, and so far the BOT demonstrates no intention of acting upon these requests. So for better or worse we have a stalemate. What happens if she stays or goes?

  • Fernandes remains the ninth president.
This is just as likely as it is for her to resign. In this circumstance, no one really wins. FSSA, the student protesters, and the community at large will have to live with Fernandes for the time being. For her part, Fernandes will have a sizeable bloc of permanent opposition, will have a chunk of alumni reluctant to support the university, financially or otherwise, and will have the eyes of the community on her 24/7.
  • Fernandes resigns as ninth president.
While it's not immediately likely this is going to happen, the FSSA/protesters win in the short term. What the ultimate result will be depends on the reconstituted PSC and their next choice. In the meantime, the community at large remains divided due to the various fissures that have formed. The internal Gallaudet community also has its own divisions that remain uncovered at this point. Both communities will have a long way to go to heal.

Either way, no one's really won here. The so-called "unity" is only present on one level: for those who are/were physically present at Tent City and campus grounds, protesting. Even on campus, not to mention outside in the rest of the world, cyber and otherwise, there have been differences of opinion, splits, and arguments and debates raised that will not go away overnight. I'm sorry, but that doesn't meet the definition of "unity."

For all of this, I blame the BOT. The Board is supposed to oversee the president, so if Jordan was truly pulling the strings, then the BOT allowed itself to be manipulated. Additionally, the BOT (and Jordan) *knew* prior to their announcement that all interested stakeholders (students, staff, faculty, and alumni) did NOT want Fernandes. They *knew* she was divisive and that there was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction that threatened to explode into a protest (which it did). If they truly cared about the university and ensuring a smooth transition, they haven't shown it. What were they thinking?!?!?

As it is, going back and dissecting all the possibilities, the "what ifs," the "should'ves" is counterproductive. As I'm known for saying, what's done is done. Where do we go from here? What does each group/faction need to do?

I. King Jordan
He needs to come clean about any behind-the-scenes machinations he may have done, and acknowledge any additional conflicts-of-interest that are/were in play. One of the heroes of DPN, and overall a good President for Gallaudet, his presidency is currently tarnished, and his legacy possibly in danger if he doesn't do something proactive about his role in the entire presidential selection process. Right now many in the Deaf community are suspicious of him, and that isn't going to go away. If Jordan just wants to dash into retirement and doesn't care about his last months in office, that's his right. But he shouldn't expect community goodwill in return. Already he decided not to attend the CEASD in Riverside, and so far is scheduled to appear at the NAD convention on opening day. If I were him, I'd seize the NAD convention as an opportunity to address the community at large about events. The key for him is not to rely on the Gallaudet PR office or proxies, but to come out and address events in person.

Jane Fernandes
If she's going to insist on staying, she needs to immediately change her tactics. So far she isn't being a good example of a leader or proactive president-in-waiting. While she's made an effort to meet with students, FSSA, and the like, she's simultaneously using the media to issue statements in an attempt to dampen opposition to her, rather than addressing the campus community directly. As anyone who's been paying attention knows, there are several audiences here: the immediate campus community, the external Deaf/deaf community, and the public at large. Her first priority and obligation should be the internal campus itself. Since she was still provost during the bulk of the protests so far, the internal campus was her sole province. Of course, you can't completely blame her; she knows public pressure could doom her shot at the job even before she formally assumes it, and she knows making sure it doesn't become the topic du jour in the external media is crucial.

Her initial comments in the media focused on her educational background/social status in the community-- "I didn't learn to sign until I was 23." She was wildly successful at pushing that, since the protests then veered from unsuitability for office to a larger, overarching theme of community pecking order/social status/communication-- far more complicated topics to cover in the media and garner support for, and certainly not winning arguments for compelling the BOT to reconsider. However, her new narrative is that "the faculty" encouraged the protests "to settle scores with her." I find this totally disingenuous and irresponsible. Not only does it make her look like she's casting about for reasons for why everything happened, it also assumes the risk of alienating the faculty further, and hints at retribution (I'm not saying she will take measures when all is said and done-- just that even the hint of retaliation would further contribute to the decline in campus morale, which is *NOT* what needs to be happening!). Instead of trying to pin blame on people and quash the protests via the media, she needs to be taking visible, proactive steps to demonstrate that the BOT's faith in her was justified. For example, instead of letting Gallaudet's PR machine handle the announcement that she was leaving as Provost in order to prepare to take over in January, she should have called for a public announcement on campus with a PR representative and media there. Sure, it would have been a magnet for protesting students to hurl invectives at her, but it would have shown a willingness to publicly face the campus and try to start engaging people. She failed to do so, and people have pointedly noticed and commented on it.

Any new management team she puts together should be composed of people who will balance her-- in other words, perhaps some of her competitors for the presidency or others who will be able to forge links between her and the campus as a whole. Not doing so will deepen the divide between her and the community.

She has stated that she will help the campus heal through "committees." Excuse me, that's a response typical of a bureaucrat, not a leader. Healing isn't going to happen by proxy, or through various committees. It's going to be a long, possibly sometimes painful process and won't happen overnight.

The best way to being the healing would be for her to decline/resign the presidency. She knows by now that her appointment is divisive, has caused the protests (regardless of who started what), and has led to splits in the community, both at Gallaudet and outside. These rifts will not heal overnight, and she so far hasn't shown that she is the person to lead the healing. But like it or not, regardless of what happens, the next move is really hers. As a friend of mine put it, she is the catalyst here. She said in the NYT, "It is absolutely essential I stay." I'm sorry, Dr. Fernandes, but it isn't. You are and should be expendable for the good of the community.

The Board of Trustees
The Board considers itself in a bind: stay with Fernandes, and reap the whirlwind. Let Fernandes go, and risk being "weakened" because the students will then have forced the reconsideration of a presidential choice twice. While I understand the BOT's reluctance, I also think they need to demonstrate their independence by making the decisions that are best for Gallaudet, not necessarily the best for one individual or one group. As I said above, they are also largely at fault for all that has transpired since. It's my understanding that individual trustees have approached Tent City, or spoken to groups and individuals outside of the boardroom. I applaud this openness, and hope that it continues.

Ideally, the BOT would grow a spine and recognize the damage the appointment of Fernandes has done to Gallaudet and the community, and rescind their offer of the job. It can be done; the Board, like all boards, oversees the chief executive and as such has the right to remove that person from the company/corporation/organization/school. The Bylaws, in Article VI, Section 6.2, clearly states that the President "shall serve at the pleasure of the Board." For analysis of this, go see Rob Voreck's post, "Can the Board of Trustees rescind its offer to Fernandes?"

On a San Francisco Bay Area website, Bay Area Perspective on the Gally Presidential Selection, Di Herron offers her perspective from her years in the corporate world on whether the Board can revoke their offer. She too agrees with Voreck that a payout may be required, but that it is indeed possible for the BOT to withdraw their offer. But as Di points out, "The sooner they terminate it, the lesser the consequence would be." Since the BOT has already announced Fernandes' resignation and telegraphed that they will not be reversing their decision anytime soon, the "consequences" are going to be a lot more severe as time goes on.

The BOT also needs to develop a search committee process that is far more transparent than the one in place. Instead of doing the overhaul themselves, I'd establish a committee with representatives from all factions (two students, two faculty, two staff, two alumni, two trustees) and then letting such a committee independently craft the best possible protocol. This committee should seek input through public forums, and also seek advice from other groups, such as NDBA (National Deaf Black Advocates) to ensure that there is fairness and equitability every step of the way.

Some people are saying Jordan chose the outside company, Academic Consultation Search Service; others say it was the PSC. Regardless of who hired them, in the future the leader of any such service (this time around it was Dr. Tobie Van der Vorm) should be paired with someone neutral who is not a candidate, who has intimate knowledge and understanding of deafness, Gallaudet, and the Deaf community to help guide the process. Both in 1988 and 2006, the searches focused on qualifications. Qualifications are great; I'm all for them, and it's the reason why I was so concerned about Ron Stern (who otherwise was a fantastic fit for the job). But as the protests demonstrate, there's far more at stake here. Yes, the message emanating from the protest should never have been about degree of deafness, but unfortunately, the topic is out there in the open. The best way to deal with it in the future is to confront it head-on.

The faculty's "no-confidence" vote should have been supplemented with far more media attention and evidence than it was. I'm not sure how the faculty as a whole and individually can get their message out; some are speaking in public forums, such as Shirley Shultz-Myers and David Pancost. A former professor, Zoltan Szekely, has discussed in various forums and e-mail lists about the weakening of the University's math department and the role of Dean Karen Kimmel in its decline (while his posts and messages are persuasive, I have yet to see any e-mails or other evidence. Also, where are other members of that department? We're only getting one voice, one side of the story. Still, his allegations are serious enough that if true, Karen Kimmel should be removed and an investigation started.). The staff are also somewhat divided, although their voices haven't been heard as often in news reports. I've talked privately with a few faculty and staff members, and there are serious divisions on campus. Not everyone supports the protesters; some openly support Fernandes. Others are supporting the protesters, but staying quiet; a handful are publicly siding with the protesters. It does not bode well for the campus climate this fall.

While my sympathies are with the protesters and those faculty that do not want Fernandes, I must state that I am troubled: if there have been so many problems with Fernandes, why hasn't the evidence been shared before May 1? Why hasn't the media or other influential persons been contacted? Where are e-mails, memos, and other documents that can build a case against Fernandes? Perhaps the evidence is there, has been used, has been publicly disseminated. But it certainly has failed to reach the outside community at large. Whether this is the fault of the faculty, the FSSA, or some other faction, I have no idea. But the key to getting rid of Fernandes will be cold, hard, incontrovertible evidence on paper-- hard copy, in addition to first-person accounts and narratives. There is no other way.

In any case, my sympathies are with the faculty and staff. It does not sound like most of them have the best relationship with Fernandes and the current administration; the faculty has voted "no-confidence" in her and the process; yet they are the front line in dealing with the students. How they handle the situation this fall and comport themselves will say a lot about the future of the university. My hat's off to them.

The students are for the most part at home this summer. Yet they will be back in the fall, along with a new crop of freshmen. They are the front line of the protest. While I initially did not support an actual student strike (I felt there were better means of registering protest) and I have had concerns since, I admire the fact that they stuck it out for twelve days. That's something. You don't just hang out in tents in all kinds of weather unless you're passionate about your cause.

But the students and their leaders are going to have to come back in the fall with a different discipline and a stronger message if they want to continue the battle, and especially if they want to win. There should be a uniformity to their signs and messages. The leaders and FSSA need to get it across that they need to emphasize performance as why they are not happy with Fernandes. No more of this talk of "deafness" and "ASL" and other stuff (such as your genealogy-- we Deaf may be impressed that you're a fifth-generation Deaf who's the third generation at Gallaudet, but it means little to Congress, the media, and the general public) - as I've said before, it doesn't resonate outside of campus and our community. That means when some reporter comes up and asks you about the protest, you calmly offer examples of Fernandes' lack of ability to lead, pure and simple. Of course, for that to work, you need to be prepared to offer (again!) cold, hard evidence. This isn't easy; it requires coordination, which means everyone from faculty to staff to students need to have ready at the drop of a hat papers, e-mails, memos, etc. or they are going to face skepticism, both from inside and outside campus. The media is very important-- the story has been covered everywhere, from the Washington Post to the L.A. Times, from Andrew Sullivan to Daily Kos (A deaf blogger on Kos! The second time recently! Great! Hat tip to Joseph Rainmound for alerting me to this). How the students and FSSA frame the stalemate will make all the difference.

Additionally, students need to stop making fun of Fernandes and carry on a discourse with her that is at all times civil. I'm hearing that's happening for the most part, but not always. As a staff member at Gallaudet related to me:
I've seen her in person being spoken to in a way I was horribly ashamed to see. Students using words, signs, expressions, inflections towards her they would not use with teachers or parents. Like her or don't, fine, but you don't treat people that way.
Yes, it's just one person's opinion. But it says a lot: this staff member is not a fan of Fernandes, wanted Stern for the job, is a residential school grad and graduated from Gallaudet. If this person is appalled, imagine how it comes across to others? I know it's difficult in the heat of the moment to contain passion, to stifle emotion; it's not always possible. But try to temper that fire a bit if you want people to listen. You may still be college students, and still growing and learning, and not always fully emotionally or mentally mature, and most of us who are older cut you slack for that; we were students, and your age, once. But you're technically and chronologically adults. You want the respect of other adults, then act like one.

Some of you may say it doesn't matter about hearing people, that they're not crucial to the situation. I disagree: the ex-officio members of Congress, who handle the monies for Gallaudet, are hearing. Their constituents are hearing. Many of us work for, with, and under hearing people. Some of us used to be hearing. Some of us are married to hearing people. Many of us have hearing parents and hearing children. Most people are hearing. The Deaf community is but a small segment of the deaf/partially deaf community nationwide. It *does* matter what our message is, and how we're perceived. Out there in the blogosphere, the reaction isn't all that good. See here, here, and here (admittedly, even I don't care for this last one-- I've never been a fan of Free Republic, and I never will be). Remember after DPN, how everyone reacted when they found out you were deaf, and especially when you had attended/graduated/knew of Gallaudet? Well, the same thing will happen again, but the reactions you get may not be as positive.

This organization was formed in response to the protest. While lots of blogs refer to it, and it has a website, it has a long way to go. First of all, they aren't even being referred to as FSSA in the media. They aren't harnessing PR the way they need to. Their website lies dormant for days and hours at a time, without updates. I'm sorry guys, but claiming your webmaster has a final exam doesn't cut it. What you need to do in the fall is find an alumni or sympathetic person to act as PR manager/spokesperson-- that person can either be behind the scenes, or in front, but should know about PR techniques, know how to quickly cultivate the media, and be able to respond at a moment's notice. Yes, Fernandes has Mercy Coogan and the formidable name of Gallaudet University behind her. That's why you need to get someone with experience to counter that. Solicit the advice of people who know what they're talking about, can give you pointers, or at the least steer you in the direction of others who can. Examples include Bob Weinstock, Muriel Strassler, and Diana Herron. There are others out there who have done PR or are informally skilled at it-- Butch Zein is another name that comes to mind. The name "FSSA" includes the alumni; make good use of them and learn from them.

The same goes for the webmaster. There are tons of alumni in the immediate DC area who have computer skills. Get a couple who are willing to spare their time and expertise, pair them up with the student webmaster, and keep that website and PR machine humming. As I've said before, PR is half the battle, and keeping the information coming and going is crucial. Look at politics: successful political campaigns operate 24/7-- they don't allow things like "exams" or "family" or other distractions to get in the way. As a friend of mine put it, this is "war." In a war, you can't slow down or stop for a moment, or you'll get mowed down. (Rob Voreck has also commented on this: for his take, go here)

I'm hearing and seeing reports that FSSA isn't listening to outside members offering tips, advice, and expertise. This is inexcusable. You state that it's all about "unity"-- well "unity" means treating this as a sort of democracy, where everyone has a voice and everyone makes contributions. One thing that DPN did very well was that while it was the top four, the Ducks, and their advisors who held meetings and debated in private, they wisely set up a tree of committees, leaders, and others who could handle various aspects of the protest. John Maucere was one of those responsible for securing the gates, and he quickly gathered volunteers who could man the gates and entries; I was one of them. I may be mistaken, but I have heard nothing of such organization on the part of FSSA and the students. If they do have such a "tree," great; if not, it's something they should consider come Fall.

Alumni/The Community
The best thing these two groups can do is to be as educated as possible. But in order to do so, the students, faculty, staff, and FSSA need to do a better job of educating everyone outside their groups. This means instead of spouting meaningless lines like "She had six years as provost, and she failed," it means assuming that *everyone* you meet doesn't know the background or story, and filling them in with a concise, factually-based narrative to bring them up to speed. During such a conversation, a smart person will quickly recognize what the listener/questioner already knows, and can then proceed to fill in the gaps. Self-education's fine, folks, but it takes a lot of time. I know-- I sacrificed quite some time educating myself in order to prepare these posts.

The second thing these two groups need to do is determine how best to support (or not support, if they choose) the protests. Most have done so admirably. In California, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, and other states, state organizations and GUAA groups have sent letters and resolutions of support. It is key for such groups to not just rest on their laurels, but to continue to press the BOT and Fernandes to reverse the decisions made so far. The group I alluded to earlier, Bay Area Perspective on the Gally Presidential Selection, is a model for others to follow.

As for the GUAA itself, it's stuck between a rock and a hard place. Part of the problem is it's officially affiliated with Gallaudet and the campus, and its apparatus. It can't exactly undermine the administration. But at the same time, they represent the alumni, a significant portion of whom are against Fernandes' selection. They are going to have to figure out a way out of this conundrum-- I'm not sure how. It doesn't help that the president of GUAA, Andy Lange, is also heading the NAD board. Most of the time, this isn't a problem. Right now though, it's a conflict of interest; the NAD needs to act in the interests of the community and do what's best for the community. The GUAA's mission is to support and aid the alumni. Where the NAD can and should speak out about the situation, the GUAA, as I said, is in a somewhat more nuanced position.

The community at large has a larger, and much more difficult, problem: the protest has revealed large questions that go to the heart of Deaf history, that focus on the core of the Deaf-World. Oral v. Manual, congenitally deaf v. late-deafened, various sign systems v. ASL, assimilation v. separation, questions of audism and oppression, whether internal or external, horizontal or vertical (hat tip to MountainSprite!)-- these are all debates and questions that, whether new or old, have never really been answered/resolved. Some of them have been ongoing constants, while others have been lying under the surface for years, if not decades. All of a sudden, they're all out in the open.

In one way, this is a confrontation, a conversation, a discussion that needs to be had. It may in the long run be healthy for the community, and it certainly is raising awareness of identity and community all over.

But it is also divisive, and it runs counter to the immediate goals of the protesters. In order for the FSSA to be successful, they will need to at least quell the debate on campus when dealing with the media, and when spreading their message and goals. Otherwise it contaminates everything. Already we've had the meme of "She doesn't say hi" and "She's not deaf enough" enter the discourse. It's partly the fault of the students, partly the fault of Fernandes (who, instead of truly trying to unify the campus and outside community, sought to exploit divisions for her benefit). But these are things we need to deal with LATER.

There is also the larger question of deaf education. Gallaudet may be a college, but it's also where the products of all our systems end up: from residential schools to self-contained programs to "true" mainstreaming. As educational methods and programs change and evolve, there is the feeling that traditional residential schools are falling by the wayside: this may or may not be the case, but it is part of a larger debate and problem that needs to be separated from Gallaudet's presidency, at least temporarily. It's also a topic for a separate post.

SO... in a nutshell: the various factions have their work cut out for them over the summer and come this fall. I'm still of the opinion Jane Fernandes needs to vacate her office immediately. I want the PSC re-formed and the process done over again in as transparently as possible. There should be no reprisals against any individuals or groups involved. But in the end, there needs to be discussion, introspection, and examination of what it means to be Deaf, where our community is now, and where we're going. This process needs to involve as many people, opinions, and perspectives as possible. While there may never be a complete, final resolution or answer for everything, there needs to be healing. Otherwise we will balkanize even more so than before, and that cannot be the legacy of this protest.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mom, Ma, Mama, Mami, Maman, Mor, Mother

Mother's Day, as most of you know, was Sunday. While I wasn't anywhere near either of my parents, I thought of them and went the dutiful son routine: a phone call and flowers as part of my gift. But it wasn't until today when I checked one of my must-read blogs that I found this great entry about mothers. Do go ahead and read it-- it's a good reminder of what a mother is, what being a mother is, and what motherhood is all about.

For those of you who desperately need your Gallaudet drama fix, I'll have something up fairly soon. Patience-- it's not like the whole drama is going to go away. Far from it.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Framing the Stalemate: Thoughts on Gallaudet

This is the second half of what was originally a super-long, granddaddy of all posts. As much as I would have liked to bang it all out and publish in one sitting, that isn't always possible. Especially on a topic as complex as this! But I'm ready now. So open that bag of popcorn, get your drink settled on the coaster, your hand on your mouse, and let's go for it.
[WARNING: *Another* super-long post!]

My Current Position
Since I type long posts a lot of times, and since I know from my teaching days and from writing in general that people pay the most attention to the beginning and end of articles, essays, and the like, I figured I'd get this out of the way, before I dig in and analyze.

As I stated earlier, my position has evolved over time. One thing has remained constant: I strongly feel/felt the search should be re-opened, if not from scratch, then at least from a pool of the stronger candidates who applied the first time. I know this means a lot of time and energy from those involved, but I think a new presidential search, with as transparent a process as possible, is best.

Second, despite a lot of errors and missteps on both sides of this battle, I feel it is in everyone's best interests that Jane Fernandes decline her appointment.

Thus, I'm in favor of the demands of the protesters, FSSA, et al: (1) Jane Fernandes declining the Presidency of Gallaudet University, and (2) re-opening the Presidential search. Since May 1, I've been in favor of these two conditions, even though I was initially against the protest itself, and still harbor doubts about its effectiveness as a tool.

Issues, Tactics and More
One of the biggest problems I had with the protest is not that I don't want to hold the glory of DPN for myself and my fellow veterans from those heady days, but that I felt from the beginning and still feel that protests are weapons of limited effectiveness, and should not be used all the time. Is the community going to resort to protesting each and every time there's turnover in the top slot? Was the protest thought-out, or was it a knee-jerk reaction born out of genuine frustration? The student strikes of the 1960's are famous, sure, but many of them failed, at least in the short term. Their overall cumulative effect was to raise public awareness of the anti-war movement, including educating the country as to why the Vietnam War was a mistake. In this sense, the protests succeeded, because they had a single, overriding message: end the war now.

For the same reasons, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's accomplished much, but for the same simple reason: a single goal, or a few clear-cut objectives in the same direction. Issues were black and white (no offense meant, or pun intended!). Single or limited issue protests and strikes with clear, defined messages succeed over general protests that involve complicated, diverse issues or controversial aspects. To take the above example of the Civil Rights era, the movement succeeded over time because it was a clear-cut moral issue: blacks were second-class citizens or worse, and the promise of America, its Constitution, and the ideals of its entire social system were not being lived up to. By the late 1960's, various groups had splintered from the NAACP and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference-- while they all advocated change for blacks, they all had different messages, goals, and methods. The bloc splintered, and the various subgroups and organizations met with no or limited success since.

Once the Vietnam War wound down and our armed forces were withdrawn starting in 1973, the main impetus of student unrest was accomplished; instead, you had numerous groups with their own single-issue focus and methods-- none of them were able to unite on an overarching cause at the same power and level that they had earlier. You can see it even today, during protests against the war in Iraq-- I marched in the anti-war parade in February 2003, before we invaded Iraq, and while numerous protesters had anti-war signs, there were signs for other causes and issues as well. This kind of medley of "causes" continued at later protests, long after the war started. By having one sign for environmental awareness, another on civil rights, six on Iraq, five urging justice for Palestinians (a recent anti-war protest I went to last fall highlights the problem: half of the people I saw were marching with pro-Palestinian signs, t-shirts, etc.; many of the speakers were pro-Palestinian. While Israel v. Palestine is an important subject and one of the root causes of Middle East unrest, you can't exactly urge Joe and Jane Middle Class out to march against Iraq, when so many others aren't fighting for the same message), you dilute the overall message.

Let's apply the above to 1988 and today. As I previously stated in an earlier entry, DPN was a black-and-white conflict, with a ready-made cast of characters- almost one-dimensional, really. It was very easy to support, it was media-friendly in the sense that it had a simple, powerful, overarching narrative, and the issue was clear-cut: the Deaf/deaf community will be patronized no longer-- we are capable of governing ourselves, thank you.

BPN, DPN2, CDPN, RDPN, Tent City Protest, Unity for Gallaudet, or whatever the hell it's going to be referred to once it's all over and done with (which it isn't yet, not by a long shot!), is not as one-dimensional: while Fernandes is the boogeyman for many, she isn't coming across that way in the media, or outside the Gallaudet community and the Deaf-World. Instead, she's gotten pretty good press up until very recently, and a lot of hearing people outside are scratching their heads over what we're doing (witness Ray LaHood-- while you had Bush, Dukakis, Jesse Jackson and a host of others falling over themselves to be first in line to praise DPN and secure our votes, we have a congressman who is an ex-officio member of the BOT saying he felt Fernandes was a fine choice.). On paper, she is indeed the best choice out of the final three-- never mind that it was an extemely lopsided (and thus suspicious, at best) final field. The initial message coming out of the student camp (fairly or unfairly) was one of personality-- "we don't like her." Subsequent running skirmishes and commentary on blogs and websites all over revealed a huge split between members of the Deaf/deaf community (whereas, DPN was a unifying issue for deaf/Deaf, regardless of communication methods, educational backgrounds, status in the pecking order, etc.), so a true consensus hasn't completely been there, and still isn't there. While the initial demands were clear for most of the life of the protest to now, the rationale behind those reasons hasn't been fully articulated. As I've said elsewhere, PR is half the battle/war.

Which leads me to another beef I have with how things have progressed so far: did any of the student leaders/influential figures on campus have any idea of what they were going to do should the decision of the PSC be to recommend Fernandes? Somehow I doubt it. While a certain number of people foresaw events happening as they did, most just sat there, and as Kristi, a commenter on this blog and others has said, "crossed their fingers" for their candidate, doing little else. I don't know (or pretend to know) what was going on in the minds of campus leaders and alumni, but waiting until after the announcement was made to just stand around and figure out what to do was NOT the right move, and it cost them in the short run, and maybe in the long run as well. Whoever controls the message has the advantage. By ceding control to Jordan, Fernandes et al in the first crucial days makes it that much harder.

That isn't to say that the two objectives can't be achieved; it just means the battle is going to be that much more protracted. Let's briefly examine the rationales/talking points on both sides (a similar list, which I've referred to while doing mine, is at Deafness/Hard of Hearing at, and compiled by Jamie Berke):

Fernandes/Jordan and supporters:
  • Fernandes was chosen through a process that is similar to what occurs at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide; it is not an "election."
  • The protesters insist on a "Deaf-centric" president-- Fernandes "not deaf enough"
  • [as Berke states] As provost, had to make unpopular decisions
Anti-Fernandes/FSSA/protesters and their supporters:
  • The search process was corrupt/flawed
  • "Diversity" and issues of race not fully considered in the search
  • "Aloof, cold, and condescending"; her personality isn't warm enough
  • "She had six years as Provost and didn't do a good enough job"
  • [again, per Berke!] Low campus morale
There may or may not be other key assertions made by both sides, but these are the ones I've found in my own self-education, and ones that Jamie Berke has listed. Let's go through them, starting from the top.
  • Fernandes was chosen through a process that is similar to what occurs at hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide; it is not an "election."
This point is indisputable. Presidential searches go on all the time at various colleges and universities-- whether Gallaudet's protocol for such searches is effective is a subject that will need to be re-visited, no matter the outcome of the current protest. It is also true that it is not, nor should it be, an "election." Students had opportunities throughout the entire process to participate/make their voices heard, from attending forums to viewing candidate presentations, to attending BOT meetings (my understanding is that the open portions of the meetings are open to *anyone* who wishes to attend). While it is obvious the PSC/BOT was not listening carefully enough to students, faculty, and alumni who were quite clearly saying, "ANYONE but Fernandes," it's hard to see how much more the students could have been involved during the search process itself, without an actual election.
  • The protesters insist on a "Deaf-centric" president-- Fernandes "not deaf enough"
This one is one of my biggest grievances with both sides. While it was totally wrong of Fernandes to use this point as the sole reason for why the protests were occuring, there were and are quite a number of students and community members who have discussed Deafness, Deafhood, the use of ASL and the lack of it, personal and community credentials, and all sorts of topics related to Fernandes' status in the Deaf community, and the pedigrees of the other finalists, Stern and Weiner (even to the point of analyzing whether their fraternity affiliation had any bearing on their candidate status!), that it is very clear that while a vocal minority (usually those with a head on their shoulders!) have stressed that their discontent with Fernandes' selection isn't about her being deaf or Deaf or partially Deaf, or Deaf of Hearing (little joke there, folks), a larger group, usually in various forums and blog comment boxes, has continually discussed and analyzed what the media, via Jordan, Fernandes, et al, have called "identity politics." For better or for worse, this one is here to stay. To the public at large, the struggle is partially about being "Deaf enough," whether you like it or not-- after all, the final three candidates were audiologically deaf. Most people outside the Deaf-World do NOT understand the nuances, culture, mores, or history of the Deaf-World. Rightly or wrongly, the subject should never have been raised at this time, and the FSSA and other leaders should have temporarily quelled this debate. It's a discussion the community needs to have, and should have, but it's absolutely the *wrong* time to have it. If you look at recent comments on the latest posts at Observe But Do Not Interfere or DeafDC, you'll see debates about the usage of ASL, educational/audiological/sociocultural backgrounds, etc. No one's really discussing Fernandes anymore, or repeatedly stressing the neccessary talking points.
  • As provost, had to make unpopular decisions
This one is an interesting one. I agree- college administrators make thousands of decisions, and not all of them are popular or fully understood. Sometimes standing tough is something an administrator, especially a high-profile one like a provost, has to do. This also goes to the heart of the whole protest: time and again, on this blog and others, in many other forums, I've repeatedly asked for examples of actions by Fernandes that would indicate unfitness for the position of President. Unfortunately, with the exception of a few accounts or examples here and there, I'm not getting sufficient evidence from her time as provost. I've gotten far more in the way of solid evidence of poor leadership from her time at Pre-College Programs. I'll discuss this more later, but I'd say this one is a split decision: Fernandes is correct in saying that she's never going to have a perfect record or be completely backed 100% of the time; her detractors are correct in saying there are enough examples that should give hiring committees pause before considering her. But as I said, a bit more on this later.

Now to the FSSA/protesters/students side of the equation:
  • The search process was corrupt/flawed
While there isn't incontrovertible, damning evidence (i.e., memos, e-mails, videotaped conversations, etc.), I've stated before (as have many, many, many others!) that I found the final field culled from the larger pool highly suspicious. One candidate (Fernandes) was highly qualified, at least on paper; a second candidate had sufficient credentials across the board (Weiner), but not on par with Fernandes; while the third candidate (Stern) did not possess a terminal degree or experience in higher education (and again, Atheletic Director does *not* count!)-- this alone should have eliminated him normally from further consideration right from the close of the filing period for applications. Additionally, the grapevine says that highly qualified candidates such as Roz Rosen didn't even make it past the starting gate, possibly due to the objections of just one committee member. Quite a few folks decried the lack of diversity/color in the final pool (more on this next). While I don't think anyone outside the PSC is ever going to get the full story, I'd say this is probably the strongest talking point for the protesters and FSSA. Yet, no one (with the exception of a few individuals/groups) raised any concerns/objections about the process, until after the choice was determined, the offer tendered, and the announcement made. In other words, waiting to say "foul" until it was practically too late. I really, really, really wish this point and examples of poor actions as Provost/head of Pre-College Programs had been stressed more forcefully right from the start. If this protest ultimately fails, this will be why. Again, regardless of what happens, the protocols for presidential searches need to be publically overhauled and reformulated for the future.

Another point that many raise is that Jordan had undue influence over the process. While this may or may not be true, I do feel there was a conflict of interest that Jordan needed/needs to face: he served as a reference for Fernandes. Because of this, he should have recused himself entirely from any interviews/consultations throughout the process, from start to finish. Were he not a reference/advocate, I would fully welcome his participation. While I'm not certain how other institutions handle Presidential involvement in the search for a successor, it is crucial to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest. By doing so, Jordan has tarnished his last days in office, which is a shame; overall I think he was a good President for Gallaudet at a time when the university needed such a leader.
  • "Diversity" and issues of race not fully considered in the search
This is the one I am probably going to get blasted for in some quarters, but I really feel this was the wrong tack to take. While it is true that the final three were all white (and it was very bizarre that Fernandes stressed her racial makeup ("I am a white deaf woman... all of whom are white people...")), it is also true that most people acknowledge that Glenn Anderson was among the six semi-finalists who interviewed with the PSC. Anderson served as BOT Chair, has long been involved with Gallaudet, and has an excellent resume. The fact that he made it to semi-finalist status shouldn't be countered with charges of racism or lack of appreciation for diversity. Some rumors (unsubstantiated at this point, naturally) state that he botched his interview. I've said it before: I've served on a hiring committee in the past (and no, I don't mean the Buff 'n' Blue!), and it's rather common that someone who looks stellar in the abstract bombs in person. It's very possible this happened with Anderson, who had an inside advantage (in my opinion) compared with some of the other candidates.

Additionally, does this mean that every time in the future that Gallaudet conducts a search, a person of color must be in the final pool for the process to be judged successful? What if the BDSU and other similar advocacy groups "won" and Anderson was installed as President, and turned out to be a poor choice (I doubt he would be, I'm just saying, you know...?)? Is it really neccessary to sacrifice all merely for the sake of race?

Dont get me wrong, I'm all for racial equality and diversity; I have no problem with having a non-white, or a female, in office; in fact my initial preferred choice before the filing period closed was Dr. Laurene (Gallimore) Simms (A black, Deaf woman! The perfect trifecta! But that's not why I supported her.). I still feel that if the search is re-opened, she would be a viable (and hopefully successful!) candidate. She'd also make an excellent provost, for that matter. But I think without reasoned logic or firm evidence that it is a mistake to inject race and diversity issues into the debate. All this did was add another reason onto a number of rationales for why Fernandes wasn't acceptable, and played in initial media reports, rightly or wrongly, as "the race card." In an early WaPo article, there were three very different reasons listed for student discontent: one of them was race, none of them focused on abuses by Fernandes as Provost. I'm sorry, but this isn't a winning argument, folks.
  • "Aloof, cold, and condescending"; her personality isn't warm enough
This is the one talking point that is/was totally stupid, and really hurt the students/FSSA. Yes, millions of anecdotes, and hundreds of students/alumni/blog commenters/posters have stated she is not a warm person, she does not possess "people skills," and her emotional (not linguistic, emotional) communication style leaves something to be desired. As I (and countless others) have stated, there are tons of people like that who lead corporations, boards, and even countries. Part of it may be due to the fact that she grew up orally deaf; many people from an oral/mainstream background lack social skills while they are growing up, and they end up having to catch up with their peers later in life. This can lead to characteristics that are out of sync with the Deaf community-- but so what? If you truly want to argue that the Deaf-World is inclusive, then you need to get over it, and accept that there are different types of communication styles and personalities, shaped by all kinds of factors.

She is obviously a competent (note, I said "competent," *not* outstanding) administrator, or she wouldn't have gotten as far as she has or have the resume she does. That does not necessarily translate into being a competent or outstanding leader. But to make such an argument, you have to go beyond personality issues. Instead, some idiot at one of the initial protests early this month made a sign that said, "She doesn't say Hi." As you all know by now, that one got plucked out of the crowd by a WaPo reporter and right or not, quickly became the meme for the protest. As the initial story passed from the WaPo to AP, many newspapers used the AP story and stuck it in their daily edition.

Another meme that quickly gained currency is one I mentioned above-- Fernandes isn't "Deaf enough." One thing that really bothers me about the protest is how divisive it's been. You have people sneering at culturally Deaf people from Deaf families, calling them the "10-percenters;" You have people questioning others about whether they use ASL. You have some commenters suggesting that if one has no affiliation with Gallaudet whatsoever, then they have no right to participate in the discussion/debate. There are individuals with cochlear implants being called "borgs." You had others stating why they left Gallaudet/refused to attend Gallaudet was due to the snubbing they received, the stratification they saw solely based on where they went to school and how they were brought up, choices that often weren't theirs to make in the first place. It seems that people are far more willing to tear each other down than to focus on providing background, examples, and logical, documented and supported facts for why Fernandes should not ascend to the presidency. Most of the articles and media source material I've viewed/culled has been from the East Coast, especially the WaPo and local media outlets in the DC area. But even out here, the L.A. Times did include an article, buried in the back of the paper. The article was from the AP (Associated Press), and with the exception of a quote from student leader Anthony Mowl, the comments and focus was entirely on Fernandes and Jordan, both of whom pointed to Deafness and identity politics as the reason for the protest. This is probably going to be the only mention about the protest for the average reader here in Los Angeles-- what the average person is going to carry away from it is not a narrative about a poor choice due to bad leadership or unethical actions, but a story about a community devouring its own.

We are starting to tear our leaders down, one by one. I've seen noted people denigrated for not stepping up to the plate. I'm seeing certain individuals being told they're not following through, and thus their opinions, leadership, what have you is no longer being accepted. Celia May Baldwin, a Deaf woman of Deaf parents who attended a residential school, attended Gallaudet, and taught and worked in residential schools all over the West, resigned from the Board of Trustees due to the stress and "aggressive threats" made against her. I suspect that why people made threats against her was due to the posting of her private pager e-mail address on a blog, for the world to see. It's one thing to contact her at her public, work e-mail address, or her official mailing address c/o Gallaudet or her workplace. But to publish people's pager or private e-mail addresses without their consent is irresponsible.

When all is said and done, who will remain our leaders? Who will we accept, who will we cast aside? Is that what should happen? A community as small as ours with the limited talent pool we have-- we're willing to throw all that away?

This is, for better or for worse, the narrative that is and has been carrying the day for the most part. The movement is called "Unity for Gallaudet"-- where's the unity? All I see everywhere is divisiveness and mixed messages. There is no "unity" here at all.

Mowl's essay on Inside Higher Ed tries to reframe the debate, but unfortunately I don't think he succeeded (especially when you read the comments-- yes, some people don't get it, but controlling the message is crucial to these kinds of battles); for one thing, instead of focusing on why Fernandes was unfit, Mowl tried to encapsulate the spirit of Gallaudet into a few paragraphs, and stressed his Deaf heritage ("I’m the fourth generation in my family to be born deaf, and the third to attend Gallaudet."). This kind of essay would be perfect on any number of blogs or within our community; it doesn't play well in Peoria, unfortunately. It stresses again that to be a leader in the Deaf-World, one must have been born into it.

As Fernandes explained and many in the press reported, she came from an oral deaf family and didn't learn to sign until age 23. I could cast a stone and hit dozens around me who have similar experiences. I know Deaf of Deaf who have gone to mainstream programs, or oral schools. I know one family with Deaf siblings who have gone to different types of programs (I went to school with one such man, and have an ongoing acquaintanceship with his brother, who are three deaf siblings out of a large family. One child went to an oral program, another was completely mainstreamed, and a third went to a state residential school- yet all are accepted in their own ways within the Deaf-World). I myself attended a self-contained pre-school program for deaf kids, then was mainstreamed as a sole student without support services until high school, when I attended a large mainstreamed program with interpreters, during the tail end of the Rubella bulge school population), then was mainstreamed on my own with an interpreter, and finally went to Gallaudet, where I discovered and accepted myself as a deaf and Deaf person. I have a close friend who is firmly within the Deaf-World, hangs out with many so-called 10-percenters, yet was mainstreamed until high school.

So as you can see, there's quite a bit of variety. We proclaim that we're not rejecting Fernandes based on her background (and as far as pedigree goes, she's a deaf child of deaf parents-- even though she's from a deaf family, she has a better "pedigree" than a lot of other people!), yet on nearly every blog or forum I visit, there's arguments, debates, and general acrimony over what it means to be deaf/Deaf. This is not an argument we're going to "win," it's not a talking point we can use, but unfortunately, it's already out there.

One bright spot is the letter from nine Gallaudet faculty members, nearly all women, who come from non-residential school/cultural Deaf backgrounds, addressing Fernandes on the matter and chiding her for using such an argument to counter the protesters. While I thought it was an excellent letter for many reasons, the writers didn't include, nor have they followed up, with concrete examples of why Fernandes isn't acceptable. By missing this opportunity, the chance to *really* shift the debate to the actual issues, and to control the message was lost.
  • "She had six years as Provost and didn't do a good enough job"
This is one that gets thrown in my face a lot when I ask questions, or when others try to sift out facts. I think it's an important point, since the only way to really unseat Fernandes is to show that she has done a sub-par job in her jobs at Gallaudet-- sub-par performance is always a powerful argument against a person's hiring, promotion, or pay raise. Unfortunately, the people who spout this line either assume that everyone else *knows* the "story" and they don't need to repeat it or they use it as a code meaning "shut up-- I don't want to listen to you anymore. I'm right and you're wrong-- you're with us or against us."

Well, as I've said before, I don't "know" the story. I graduated from Gallaudet before Fernandes appeared on the scene. While I visit campus an average of once a year, I don't really interact with people there anymore, except for friends who are now professors or staff on campus. Usually we have a quick lunch or catch up on things non-Gallaudet, and that's that. I'm not the only one, folks-- there are thousands upon thousands of alumni and folks who attended briefly and people who didn't even go to Gallaudet at all who knew nothing about Fernandes prior to this spring. The period during the final presentations, the brief lull afterwards, and the span since May 1 was a golden opportunity to educate the Deaf/deaf community and society at large about Fernandes. Unfortunately, with a few notable examples, no one has really stepped up to the plate. I've tried to educate myself, but not too many people could personally relate anything to me about her days as Provost. I did have the benefit, thanks to my wife, of contacts with former MSSD students, and what I learned shocked me. I've repeated many times that Jamie Berke's account of her unpleasant experience with Fernandes started to turn the tide for me regarding my opinion of Fernandes. This was not a person I felt was right for the job, but I still wanted further evidence, more concrete examples, and especially material about her job as Provost, which is far more directly related to the campus as a whole than Pre-College Programs.

Here's what I found. One blogger states he got an unsatisfactory answer from Fernandes regarding sexual assaults on campus. While I fully agree with her that Megan's Law can't be applied to students, I agree with the poster that she did not provide a satisfactory response, nor did she apparently follow up on his concerns (which I think are very valid-- if I had a dollar for every woman I've met at Gallaudet who has been raped/sexually assaulted, I'd be able to take a nice weekend vacation somewhere). While her reaction/response wasn't great, it isn't strong enough on its own to take to the PSC/BOT and demand Fernandes' ouster.

Sonny James provides a first-person anecdote about Fernandes claiming credit for a scholarship in the wake of the murders at Gallaudet in 2001. While this example is indeed troubling, there needs to be more such evidence to be able to present a damning case.

One professor alleges that Fernandes dealt with the hiring and retention of international scholars/employees in an improper fashion. The subject was raised on Not Without Us! But aside from the link I just provided, and a brief message from said professor elsewhere (and I've since lost the link!), I have seen/heard nothing else on this topic. If this was truly the case, then Fernandes should have been disciplined and should definitely have not made it as far as she did. But so far, I have seen or been provided with no other evidence for this allegation-- and if it was this serious, as the poster I linked to states, then why didn't that person (who I suspect is either on campus or a whole lot closer to campus than I am) bring it to the attention of FSSA and other leaders? Why is this professor the only one speaking out? I would imagine that such a misstep would create a furor- where is the documentation on this matter? Until this can be verified and used as evidence, it remains just another allegation/anecdote.

I've seen posts somewhere stating that Fernandes' selection as Provost in 2000 was not welcomed by the faculty. But I have yet to hear from anyone on the faculty, or anyone with formal papers/specific evidence that there was anything untoward about her appointment as Provost. Since I have quite a bit of anecdotal evidence online and offline and through personal contacts that many of the faculty are not pleased with her, why hasn't there been a follow-up on this? Where is the publicity? Where is the history of Fernandes' career as Provost? This troubles me quite a bit.

Fernandes gained tenure in the Department of ASL & Deaf Studies. Aside from her time at Northeastern University, I fail to understand how she qualified for tenure in that particular department. She has published quite a few academic articles and pieces on ASL and deafness, she was chair of the Department of Sign Communication for a scant six months, and she coordinated an interpreter training program. With the exception of her publications, I can think of quite a few others who qualify far more for a position in ASL & Deaf Studies than Fernandes. Some commenters have stated that there's something fishy about the length of time before she was granted tenure, yet I recall the whispers about how quickly Ben Bahan was granted tenure in the very same department. Additionally, Dr. Shirley Shultz-Myers posted a letter to GallyNet-L, which was then reprinted on DeafDC-- you can see it here-- and in her letter, she states that there was nothing untoward about Fernandes' being granted tenure. Although this is Dr. Shultz-Myer's contention, there has been no other faculty member or individual stepping forth with concrete evidence to rebut Shultz-Myers. So for the time being, this example is, as they say, a nonstarter. Of more interest is the editing of a WaPo piece that Rob V. picks up on. I am curious myself as to what "procedural error" Mercy Coogan refers to. For more on that, take a break for a minute and head over here. I'm still waiting for a response to Rob's e-mail, so that's all I can say for the moment.

A lot of people have pointed to I. King Jordan's retirement announcement as evidence that the fix was in. Whether there were truly Machiavellian machinations behind the scenes or Jordan simply made an honest mistake in his comments, this says nothing about Fernandes current job performance-- it merely says the process is flawed. If this is the only serious problem, then re-starting the process again would be the best course. It could be that Fernandes would again emerge as the top choice. Nope, this won't really work either.

Fernandes apparently seized the 2000-01 yearbook, due to unacceptable student content within the yearbook. Since the link that a lot of people tout as evidence of the content leads to a page where it's difficult for me to read clearly and concisely all of the controversial text and photos, I can't really say for sure 100% whether the confiscation was justified. If someone can fill me in on this, I'd be happy to reconsider this piece of evidence. I can see where some of it might be considered offensive, but a better solution might have been to have the books reprinted at the Tower Clock's expense, rather than deprive all the students of a yearbook (I confess I'm not sure what the final decision by the commission was in regards to the yearbook). For the time being, all I can say is that rounding up the yearbooks resulted in dampened student morale at the time and did not earn her any points with the student body. Yet if this example is the strongest case anyone can make against Fernandes, you'll most likely have to say President Fernandes come 2007.

A handful of other anecdotes are at Trimmin' the Fern, which I cited several posts ago. None of them point to unethical or sub-par behavior (with the exception of Jamie Berke's experience)-- all of them demonstrate a woman who demonstrates a certain amount of insensitivity and awareness of other people and their needs. Again, this is about her personality and communication style, not neccessarily about whether she can handle the job as President.

The strongest point so far is the faculty's vote of "no confidence." This is what I urged needed to happen, in tandem with alumni opposition and pressure, to force the BOT to reconsider their decision. Yet, aside from the vote, I have seen precious little in the way of examples/evidence/opinion from individual faculty against Fernandes, with the exception of Lynn Jacobowitz's statements and David Pancost's rebuttal to Shirley Shultz-Myers. If they were upset at her selection of Provost, upset at her handling of employment issues, upset at her receiving tenure, upset at her selection as President, then why aren't more of the tenured faculty (I can understand perfectly well why junior and non-tenured faculty would not want to rock the boat!) or former faculty standing up and providing their accounts/experiences, etc.? However, Faculty Resolution #5, taken up during the voting on the "no confidence" measures, is intriguing. I wonder what decisions by Committee C were overturned? What recommendations of Committee E? I can understand that perhaps there were reasons for a long search for a new librarian, but to leave a college library underfunded? That's not good. I'd say the real story lies with the faculty and their experiences.

If any of my readers can come up with further examples that do NOT start with "But she had six years...!", please, please let me know. What happened during those six years? Did it happen to you, or did you hear it third- or fourth-hand from your main squeeze's sorority sis/fraternity bro's dormmate's best friend? Do you have or can you locate solid evidence/documentation? Simply having bruised feelings or an upsetting experience doesn't equate into a case that you can take to the public outside of campus and declare Fernandes incompetent for the job. This really should have been done prior to or immediately after May 1. It's regrettable no one has been able to fully catalog her job performance as Provost.
  • Low campus morale.
Most of the anecdotes/examples I've posted above outline instances of low morale. This is a central argument, but is again based largely on emotion rather than anything else. I'm told repeatedly the faculty doesn't want Fernandes, and they've even held a vote of "no confidence." But for the large part people are voting and voicing how they feel without providing much in the way of facts or logic to the debate. This has to change if people want to prevent Fernandes from assuming the presidency.

Final Thoughts... for Now
I've just completed a rather exhaustive analysis of how we've gotten here and the talking points thus far. I know your eyes are about to fall out, but just bear with me a few minutes more.

Taken all together, there really isn't anything substantive to keep Fernandes from becoming President. In fact, after reading everything I've written, you're probably thinking, "How in the hell can he say he doesn't want Fernandes?? He just blew up everything in the water!"

Here's why I don't support Fernandes, and why I support FSSA's conditions/demands: She is proving totally divisive. Yes, she has a stellar resume. Yes, she's met with the students and the FSSA over the past two weeks. Yes, she's held forums, and stood her ground. I'll give her credit for not being a wimp and backing down. She's a tough lady. She doesn't deserve the character assassination, half-truths, insults, and other verbal and written garbage she's gotten. She is a woman who has worked within the Deaf community or with the Deaf community most of her adult life. She had to have the guts, intelligence, and work ethic to complete her doctorate in Comparative Lit at one of the best English graduate programs in the nation. She deserves a lot more credit than what she's getting.

BUT-- the fact remains that in one way or another, she has not proven able to unify the campus. She tried to meet with students-- now whether they gave her a fair chance or not, I don't know. It's possible a fair number continued to vilify her and that's why she gave up. I'd give up too. However, she didn't, as far as I know, try to reach out (say, by stating she'd like X, Y, and Z to work with her- perhaps some of her competitors for the presidency?) in ways that could have solidified support for her. She has allowed Gallaudet's PR machine to speak for her, rather than send a letter of her own to students/alumni. She has claimed the furor is about identity politics, rather than confront the fact that it's been far more than just degrees of deafness involved here. She and the board do not seem to recognize or want to accept that she is going to have a permanent population of dissenters who will not accept her, who will not donate money, who will be watching her every move. She may very well have won the job fair and square. But considering the sizeable front arrayed against her and the divisiveness and ugliness projected so far, it would be in her best interests, the campus's best interests, and the community's best interests if she declined the job.

[Next: What Now?]

Friday, May 12, 2006

Framing the Stalemate: Background on Gallaudet

I'm finally as caught up as I'll ever be on recent events at Gallaudet. Of course, even as I say this, blog entries elsewhere continue to pile up, my pager messages accumulate, and the grapevine is as saturated as ever. One advantage I have over others is I now have plenty of information and time to mull things over, formulate an opinion, and dissect everyone else's actions, comments, and motives. The disadvantage of course is that since I didn't hit the ground running, and since I'm 3,000 miles removed from the center of action, I'm not as able to seize upon new information the minute it happens, nor am I able to provide a first-person account. Then again, a fair number of bloggers/outside commentators are somewhat in the same boat, so I can take solace in that.

So much has happened (and is happening) that it's a bit overwhelming to try to sort it out. But as my loving housemate always reminds me, "one step at a time." So let's start with a quick review.

The Deaf/deaf Blogosphere on Gallaudet
First, the best place to get a brief overview of what's happened so far is to check's Deafness/Hard of Hearing page, run by Jamie Berke. Of all the websites, blogs, etc. that there are out there, hers is the closest to being neutral. A large part of this is due to the nature of her page-- she's running the Deafness section for, and as such, is merely a source of information, links, and the like. It isn't her responsibility/obligation to be partisan. She has posted an ongoing, continually updated timeline compiled from various places. I find it a good introduction for those of you who are new to the topic, and a refresher for those who need to place events in their appropriate chronological context. Check it out: "Unity for Gallaudet- Just the Facts, Please."

To be fair, Jamie *does* acknowledge a post she wrote about her own personal experience with Fernandes, and makes it clear she is NOT happy about the appointment. Her recollections, which I had referenced in an earlier post of mine, constituted the first real evidence I had other than anecdotes about Jane Fernandes' time at MSSD/KDES as head of Pre-College Programs that she was not as perfect a candidate as she seemed on paper. At that point, I was firmly in the "none of the above" camp, but had yet to see any real reason for the anti-Fernandes current that was already seeping through the cracks at various blogs. You have probably already read it, but if you haven't, go here.

I've caught up on the major blogs that seem to be attracting the most traffic: Ridor's blog, which varies between a stream-of-consciousness, first person, you-are-there blog and a fount of comments (mostly in the comment box from his readers), which run the gamut from thoughtful to extremely illogical, highly emotional arguments to comments that border perilously close to libel (and do nothing at all to bolster the protester's cause); Elisa Abenchuchan's account as a student participant, which is sometimes woefully brief and on-the-run, and at other times provides a glimpse into what's happening on campus (especially the schedule; I don't recall during DPN our schedule being so carefully laid out! Socializing, DJ music, and a cookout, in addition to civil disobedience??); and, where a number of its bloggers have posted entries that overall are very thoughtful, generally nuanced, and have attracted hundreds of comments. While you may or may not agree with Ridor or the various DeafDC bloggers, these three are definitely where you'll be able to take the pulse of the community and what's going on from day to day, if not hour by hour, or minute by minute...

While these are the "Big Three," there are dozens (if not more!) of other blogs that have been covering/commenting on the protest since May 1; among those that I already check or are on my blogroll, Joseph Rainmound's Deaf in the City is the only one consistently providing thoughts on the matter. For the most part, his posts have been very thoughtful, analytic, and persuasive; I find myself nodding and agreeing with him 99.9% of the time. It's a blog I checked daily even before Gallaudet, and one I'll continue reading after. If you haven't already looked at it, go check it out. Queen Alpo over at Living La Vida Alpo has intermittently posted about L'Affaire Gallaudet, or cross-posted elsewhere. There are others, such as this blogger, who are chiming in with personal opinions. Over in Arizona, a self-described "loose cannon" (a very familiar person to a generation of Gallaudetians!) provides his take on current events. Patti Raswant continues to post at ASL Community Journal on the protest.

While many blogs provide straightforward opinions/accounts, an interesting take is Jared's focus on the technological aspect of the current revolt. I agree-- the ramifications for how everything's been conducted so far are predicated on current techonology. In many ways, this protest is vastly different from DPN in 1988.

So far, all the blogs I've listed or talked about have been anti-Fernandes, pro-dissenters, or at best, neutral. This isn't to say that there aren't supporters of Fernandes out there, or that there isn't a feeling of backlash or anti-protest opinions out there. The best-known Deaf/deaf/hard-of-hearing blogger on that side of the fence is McConnell, who has steadfastly proclaimed his opposition to the protest. While he doesn't come straight out and say, "I SUPPORT FERNANDES," he definitely has made it clear he supports accepting the BOT's/PSC's decision, and moving on. Kevin over at keylimeboy also wants the protesters to cease and desist, and for the community as a whole to move on.

As far as official or group blogs/websites, there are a fair number. I previously mentioned Gally President Watch, which has since been taken off the web. There's also the students' website, Not Without Us, which originally tried (somewhat inartfully) to articulate why people should be concerned, and has now progressed into another soapbox for commenters. Some of the posts are good, and it's worth checking out. Sites such as Deaf Hot News and Deaf Spot function as gateways for people seeking various sites or blogs on the issue. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the official site for the protesters is Unity for Gallaudet-- or better known as FSSA (Faculty, Staff, Students, Alumni). Most (if not all!) of you have already checked FSSA's site, but if you haven't yet, or you are new to the whole controversy, I suggest you check it out. While I was never in support of Fernandes, I had a healthy amount of skepticism about the events that were unfolding, and appalled at the initial public relations efforts, opinions, and comments that were coming out at the very beginning. FSSA has since issued on its website a set of talking points-- which is a good start. Now they need to stop preaching to the choir and educate the media, fence-sitters, and opposition with these points. More on this later.

For comic relief, check SignUpComics' small collection of strips/editorial cartoons on the protest. I especially liked Moe Klusza's first strip, and Dan McClintock's offerings, though all the cartoons are interesting.

Finally, Peggy at LoveMyBostons has done a great job of gathering various organizations, blogs, and newspaper articles into a database. I'd keep her site bookmarked and refer to it as neccessary.

Events/Issues So Far
As I already mentioned, Jamie Berke provides a good timeline on the entire matter. While there was initially a great deal of anger and confusion at the beginning, a protest began shortly after the announcement of Jane Fernandes as Gallaudet's 9th President (for those of you keeping track at home, if (and a BIG "IF") Fernandes succeeds Jordan and is invested at a Presidential Investiture Convocation, she'd be the 7th formally invested president, I believe. Dr. Lloyd Johns wasn't around long enough, if I recall correctly, and Dr. Elisabeth Zinser (who went on to a great career as president at the University of Idaho in Moscow, chancellor at the University of Kentucky, and then President at Southern Oregon University) only served for a handful of days during the last protest, the famed Deaf President Now! movement in 1988. Since then, an impromptu campground on Florida Avenue in the heart of urban D.C. emerged (see this neat website for an introduction to Tent City! I'm half-tempted to call this protest the Tent City Protest), more and more alumni, some faculty and staff, and quite a few outsiders have jumped on the bandwagon and either joined the protesters or voiced support from where they were. In the two weeks since, the main campus has been blocked off, I. King Jordan and Jane Fernandes have met with students (although most accounts state that the dialogue attempted was unsuccessful), some members of the Board of Trustees have met with students, toured Tent City, or otherwise contacted the protesters (I'm still trying to figure out which BOT members have actually ventured out to the front gates. Anyone have a comprehensive list?), and FSSA leaders have met with the BOT and University officials. PR efforts initially weren't the best, the message coming out of Gallaudet and being filtered through the media is contradictory at best, divisive at worst, and movement on both sides has been somewhat glacial.

The last few days, as most of you know, has culminated in a flurry of activity: bomb threats, the resignation of interim BOT chair Celia May Baldwin, the resignation of Fernandes as Provost, and numerous letters from outside sources, ranging from DCARA and NorCal COD in California to the NAD in Silver Spring, to two former BOT Chairs, Phil Bravin and Glenn Anderson. Perhaps most important, the faculty at large met (NOT the Faculty Senate) and delivered a vote of no-confidence in Fernandes and the Presidential selection process. Despite the events of the last few days, the protest is at a stalemate: neither side is willing to compromise, or move towards a resolution of the matter.


I think that brings me (and everyone else!) up to speed. My apologies if all of this seemed like old news to many of you. I wanted to bring ALL of my readers current, and to set the stage for my own opinion/commentary. Rather than continue at this point, I think I'm going to take a break, and come back. So consider this Part I, and I'll post Part II as soon as I can.