May 12, 2006
At school for deaf, DC chief criticized
From: Alameda Times-Star, CA - May 12, 2006
Locals will join protest over next university president denounced as incompetent and aloof
By Matthew Artz, STAFF WRITER
FREMONT â€” Protests over the naming of a new president to head the nation's only college for the deaf have reverberated through the halls of the California School for the Deaf.
The Fremont-based school has dispatched two staff members to Washington, D.C., to participate in student and faculty demonstrations demanding that Gallaudet University's Board of Trustees withdraw the appointment of Jane Fernandes as its next president.
"She is not new to the community," said Joey Baer, a teacher and curriculum specialist at the California School for the Deaf. "We've been watching her, and we don't think she has the capacity to be a leader for deaf people."
This week, Gallaudet University's faculty voted 93-43 in a nonbinding no-confidence vote against Fernandes. After the vote, Celia May Baldwin, the interim head of the Board of Trustees, resigned, citing strain from the protests and "aggressive" threats made against her.
The president of Gallaudet is more than a college administrator â€” the position carries with it the weight of being one of the leading deaf figures in the country and a representative of deaf people to the hearing world.
Fernandes, a provost at Gallaudet, has implied that the fierce opposition to her appointment is because she "is not deaf enough."
Fernandes was born deaf but can speak and read lips and was not raised in the deaf world where sign language is the primary form of communication. She attended regular schools and did not learn to sign until graduate school.
Her detractors, who include those interviewed at the Fremont school, counter that their main issue with Fernandes is that they believe she is incompetent and aloof.
"Dr. Fernandes has treated many individuals and groups with what is known as 'management by intimidation,'" California School for the Deaf Administrator Diana Herron said in an e-mail. "If she were an effective leader, her (learning sign language in her 20s) would not have been an issue."
The controversy at Gallaudet has been a major conversation topic in classes at the Fremont school, where six out of 36 graduating seniors are planning to attend Gallaudet in the fall.
"I'm a little bit less excited about going there after all of this," senior Mallory Malzkuhn said.
Blair Rasmus said she would join student protests when she arrives at Gallaudet in the fall. Rasmus added that she would prefer a president who was "culturally deaf," but was more concerned about what others had told her about Fernandes' leadership style.
"I heard Jane just looks down at the ground and ignores everybody," she said.
Most California School for the Deaf staff members interviewed were pulling for Ronald Stern, a former director of instruction at the Fremont school, to be named the next president.
"He would have been wonderful PR for the university," Baer said.
The protests at Gallaudet this month echo similar demonstrations in 1988 that pressured the board of trustees to name I. King Jordan as the school's first deaf president.
Jordan, who is stepping down at the end of the year, has been seen as a driving force in choosing Fernandes as his successor, subjecting the charismatic leader to criticism.
"It's almost as though he rode in on our backs to become president of Gallaudet and now he's telling us our opinions don't count," Baer said.
The Fremont school has been headed for 30 years by Henry Klopping, who is not deaf. Baer said Klopping, who comes from a deaf family, nevertheless was so involved in deaf life that his hearing was not an issue.
"The deaf world is one big family," Baer said. "We expect the president to be a part of the family."
Staff writer Matthew Artz covers Union City for the Argus. He can be reached at (510) 353-7003 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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