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October 20, 2006

Washington Post Editorial: Backbone for the Board

From: Gallaudet - Oct 20, 2006

Backbone for the Board
Gallaudet's trustees should not surrender their principles.

Friday, October 20, 2006; Page A20

TRUSTEES AT Gallaudet University knew they weren't making the most popular decision when they selected Jane K. Fernandes to be the school's next president. But they believed she was the best choice to lead the renowned school for the deaf. If the trustees are to take seriously their obligation to the university, they must not surrender their principles to mob rule.

Weeks of unruly protests that have disrupted the university, a faculty vote of no confidence and unrelenting bad publicity appear to be weakening the resolve of some members of the board of trustees. As reported by The Post's Susan Kinzie, as many as seven of the 20 trustees (cloaked, of course, by anonymity) are having second thoughts about Ms. Fernandes and think she should step aside. This is the board that just six months ago unanimously appointed her and that, as recently as five days ago, called her "the most qualified candidate to run the institution."

Contrary to the false claims of protesters, Ms. Fernandes was picked after a careful six-month search by a 17-member committee that included people of color as well as deaf and hard-of-hearing representatives. The majority of the committee was made up of faculty, students, staff and alumni -- all appointed because of their good standing on campus. Ms. Fernandes emerged as a finalist after she and five other candidates were interviewed. Such facts don't appear to matter to those students and faculty members who have just one goal in mind: to get their own way. It is instructive that even now they have offered no cogent explanation of what they see as so wrong with Ms. Fernandes. Indeed, even her harshest critics concede that "on paper" she is qualified.

It is clear, however, that one factor that went into the faculty's vote of no confidence and that is now affecting the board is a belief that it would just be easier for Ms. Fernandes to leave so the university can move on. How, though, will the university ever function if the people who are charged with its interests go against their best judgment and give up their legal authority to individuals who behave so badly?

Ms. Fernandes knows the answer, and that's why she, at least, is standing by her principles. She should not be left standing alone.