Sunday, February 11, 2007

Update on Gallaudet University

NO ACTION FROM GALLAUDET AGAINST ARRESTED STUDENTS Galludet University said it would not take disciplinary action against students arrested in protests that forced the ouster in October of its chosen president. "No student who was arrested will receive additional punishement," Robert R. Davila, the interim president, said in a video on the University's Web site. But arrested students may face job-related consequences if they work at the Clerc Center, where Gallaudet helps develop teaching strategies for deaf children, said Mercy Coogan, a university spokeswoman. And Mr. Davila's statement did not preclude the possibility of university sanctions against students involved in the protests but not arrested, Ms. Coogan said. (BLOOMBERG NEWS)

The above ran in the "National Briefing" column of The New York Times, Wednesday, February 7, 2007 (A13). While the above item contains some good news for the many dedicated students who refused to be bullied by an unresponsive administration, the issue of the Clerc Center is not good news.

The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center defines its purpose as:

Gallaudet University's Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center shares the concerns of parents and professionals about the achievement of deaf and hard of hearing students in different learning environments across the country. We all know that deaf and hard of hearing students can and do excel, but we also know that not all deaf and hard of hearing students are achieving their full potential.
The Clerc Center has been
mandated by Congress to develop, evaluate, and disseminate innovative curricula, instructional techniques and strategies, and materials. The aim of the Clerc Center is to improve the quality of education for deaf and hard of hearing children and youth from birth through age 21.

Actively participating in the world around them is part of a student's education. Students who demonstrated were doing so to maintain the mission of their college. Nothing could be more important for academia than students supporting the mission of a school when even the administrators were waivering.

In an e-mail exchange on Saturday with one student activist, it was again stressed that the demonstrations went to whether Gallaudet was going to maintain its historic and mandated reason for existance or whether it was going to "water down all it has stood for historically"?
Knowing what the university stands for is about education. Standing up to preserve the setting is about education. That the Clerc Center wants to claim its aim "is to improve the quality of education for deaf and hard of hearing children and youth from birth through age 21" while, at the same time, offering the threat of unemployment to students who demonstrated the best in citizen activism and perseverence while fighting for the future of their university is more than a bit of a contradiction.

The student activist gave permission for us to use her name. We're not going to. Which brings us to the second problem -- this notion that punishment may still come to those not arrested. She wasn't arrested. Many weren't. Nonsense repeated that the protests were a rejection of the free exchange of ideas may confuse some but this wasn't about ideas being exchanged. The president who wasn't, Jane Fernandes, was not prevented from speaking and had been part of the university for some time, during which she was never gagged. This was about a policy change and students have a right to protest those (we encourage it) and should be applauded when they do -- whether it's an increase in student fees or a change in the direction of a university. To repeat, Fernandes was not prevented from sharing her thoughts on sign language, she was prevented from implementing her policy decision to weaken the historic support of sign language that Gallaudet University has offered since its inception. This wasn't about Fernandez' speech being shut down, this was about the university's future.

This is explained far better at Gallaudet Protest where Irving K. Jordan's attitudes towards the 2006 protests are contrasted with his attitudes towards the 1988 protests:

The 1998 television interview provides indisputable proof that Jordan *did* approve of DPN in 1988, contrary to his statement at the Florida Avenue gate during the protest last May. And not only did he *approve* of DPN, but he also said in this 1998 interview that protesting is the appropriate thing to do when all of the other options have failed.
Therefore, it is hypocritical in the extreme for the Board of Trustees to issue reprisals against protesters. The Eighth President of Gallaudet--Irving King Jordan, Jr, the man who, as President, had a seat on the Board in October when the decision to punish the protest heroes of Black Friday was made (and who also had a seat on the Board in December when the decision was affirmed)--the Eighth President declared to the whole world that PROTESTING IS APPROPRIATE WHEN OTHER OPTIONS HAVE FAILED.
During Deaf President Now in 1988 the entire campus was shut down. Gates were chain-locked shut and blocked with vehicles and the doors to the administration building were LOCKED shut with bicycle locks. THIS is what Jordan is giving his approval to in his 1998 interview. Jordan approved of the 1988 campus lockdown! He said everything in the 1988 DPN was perfect! When he was President, he even had art work on display near his office showing gates chain-locked shut.
Therefore, the current Board of Trustees doesn't have a leg to stand on. For them to issue reprisals against protesters after they changed their minds about Fernandes and thereby ADMITTED that they were wrong is an outrage.
They must do the right thing and show that they respect the deaf community and deaf people's right to self-determination. They must drop all reprisals against protesters.

On October 13th, an 133 students were arrested. This wasn't no where near even half of those demanding that the university live up to its mission. Threats of punishment for actions that did not and have not resulted in arrest are nothing but an attempt to punish collective action and to attempt to crack down on future actions. That is a denial of the free exchange of ideas.

The protests ran from the spring until October of last year and they were the largest, continued student protests of 2006. Despite that fact, you didn't hear much about it from independent media. In fact, two weeks ago, Jess had an exchange with an independent media writer where he attempted to explain, among other things, the importance of the activism at Gallaudet to an independent media writer who blew it off and got a severe (and deserved) rebuke from Ava as a result. But if the lack of coverage didn't tell you that independent media has a really hard time relating to (let alone covering) anything that doesn't reflect their own tiny circle, the exchange certainly brought that point home.

That was actually the point Jess was making. He was explaining how C.I. repeatedly put Gallaudet on the list of topics for a feature here and how, due to time, it kept getting postponed so, finally, C.I. said, "Pack your bags, we're going to Gallaudet." It was that visit that finally prompted us to write "The students of Gallaudet University are standing up." Witnessing the deterimnation and courage by the students, and students from throughout the university, with the support of some members of the faculty brought home how important the stand the students were taking was.

We support them and we're not going to be silent while they're bullied after they won their victory. That was a victory for the college. Threats of income loss or punishment for students should not be tolerated. In the months and months of protests, they showed stength of character and the kind of committment and determination that the education system is supposed to prepare everyone for but seldom does. In spite of leadership at the top of the university, the students showed the world that they understood the lessons they had been taught and that taking a stand is essential in a functioning democracy.

They were and are an inspiration and any punishment for their refusal to put into practice the very lessons that they were taught is both misguided and flat out stupid.
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