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March 12, 2004

Some want deaf dean for department

From: The Argus - Fremont,CA,USA - Mar 12, 2004

'We can't communicate with hearing people,

By Jennifer Kho

Friday, March 12, 2004 - FREMONT -- As Ron Burdett, dean of deaf studies and special services at Ohlone College, prepares to retire at the end of the school year, the college finds itself in a quandary.

Only nine people have applied for the post so far, despite a heavy national search, said Lyle Engeldinger, executive dean of human resources.

And deaf and hard-of-hearing students have another concern: They are worried the new dean could be a hearing person.

"We want only a deaf dean," wrote Caleb Carrer, an auto body major at the college. "We can't communicate with hearing people, and we want the stron-gest communication possible. We don't want a hearing dean."

Some deaf and hard-of-hearing students are so concerned that they have even formed a new club, Deaf Dean Always. Burdette, who has worked at the school for 31 years, was the only deaf dean at a U.S. community college when he was promoted to the position four years ago, and students fear they could lose the only deaf dean position on campus.

While about 33 percent of the applicants have described themselves as having a disability, that doesn't mean they are necessarily deaf, and that also doesn't mean the others are necessarily hearing, Engeldinger said.

Even if some applicants are hearing, the college can't discriminate against them because of it, he said.

"The college is, as a matter of course, committed to opening our recruitments on a broad scale to find qualified candidates and to give those who are qualified equal opportunity for employment across the board," he said. The college has made significant progress in having a staff that represents the broad community it serves, he added.

Christopher Lui, a hard-of- hearing member of Deaf Dean Always, said that while he un- derstands the college's need to avoid reverse discrimination, students want the administration to know they would prefer a deaf dean.

"There will be a lot more of a connection between the students and dean if the dean is deaf," he said. "It is just easier to communicate with a deaf person, and more comfortable to express your opinion, and that is important. Why not hire one deaf dean?"

Not all deaf students feel that way.

"I think we are being hypocrites and should change our purpose to getting more deaf candidates to apply for the position instead of trying to discourage hearing people from applying," wrote Erika Geiger, a deaf philosophy major.

The student government, Associated Students of Ohlone College, has taken the position that it can't support discrimination in hiring, but that it wants to help find a dean who best meets the students' needs, said the group's president, Clifton Der Bing.

"The impression I got was, yeah, they are scared of losing that link, but also, there aren't a lot of job opportunities for the deaf, either," said Rosary Cordova-Lane, an Associated Students senator. "I think the point is that, where there's an opportunity for a hearing-impaired person, they think it should be filled by a hearing-impaired person. It's almost like affirmative action."

Engeldinger suggested that the students help the college find more candidates and more places to advertise, and help create a list of characteristics they want in a dean. He added that the college is considering adding students to the hiring committee.

In the meantime, the college is accepting applications for the position until March 23, when a hiring committee will review them.

For more information about the position, visit or call (510) 659-6088.

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