Unity for Gallaudet was a protest movement led by the
students of Gallaudet University, with the objective of ousting the selected
president. The students won.
The protest divided the deaf community, and energized the deaf blogosphere.
Indeed, several deaf bloggers played key roles in the Unity for Gallaudet
Underlying Factors Behind Unity for Gallaudet
Protestors were concerned about evidence that the University was not performing
well. For example, the Office of Management and Budget had rated Gallaudet
"ineffective." Ineffective is defined by Expectmore.gov as:
Programs receiving this rating are not using your tax dollars effectively.
Ineffective programs have been unable to achieve results due to a lack of
clarity regarding the program's purpose or goals, poor management, or some other
There were concerns about the academic quality of Gallaudet and its low
graduation rate. The Washington Post reported on this, noting that previously,
the University had been admitting academically incompetent students to keep up
its enrollment. The Washington Post article "A Conflict on Integrity Surfaces"
contained statements such as "There are some students who cannot multiply 4 x 4
and come up with 16 without a calculator." The same Post article also cited
examples of changing of final course grades.
The protest was sparked in early May 2006 by the selection of former provost Dr.
Jane K. Fernandes as the next president. She was selected even though the
majority of Gallaudet University faculty said she was "unacceptable" in a
faculty poll. The faculty was already upset that Fernandes had eliminated tenure
for elementary and secondary school teachers, and that she had been earlier
named provost without a formal search for a provost. (In addition, protestors
said the selection process itself was flawed and unfair) Gallaudet University
faculty voted "no confidence" in Fernandes. Another factor was the public role
of the president of Gallaudet University: Whomever is president of Gallaudet
University de facto represents the deaf community. Many people believed
Fernandes was not the right person for that role.
Key Events of Unity for Gallaudet
As soon as Fernandes' selection was announced, the protest began. Students
walked out of the auditorium where the announcement was made. Word spread via
cyberspace, getting people outside of Gallaudet involved. Students set up a tent
city on the Gallaudet campus. Bloggers posted facts, rumors, and emotional
diatribes. Several people on the board of trustees resigned. Even the interim
head of the board of trustees resigned.
When the spring semester ended, things were quiet for awhile over the summer
break. When classes resumed for the fall semester, students resumed their
protest, much more intensely. The tent city was reborn on campus and a small
group launched a hunger strike. The students took over academic buildings and
shut down the campus for three days. The faculty voted that Fernandes should
resign or be terminated. More than 130 students and supporters were arrested
late one night, Friday, October 13, 2006. That moment in deaf history was
chronicled by live bloggers, as deaf people everywhere were glued to their
computer screens, watching names of those arrested flash by. Echoing the 1988
Deaf President Now movement, students, alumni, and supporters marched to Capitol
As more issues surfaced, the protest became not a protest just against Fernandes,
but a battle for the future of Gallaudet University. A key issue was what would
the future of Gallaudet be? Would the University be bilingual, meaning a focus
on American Sign Language and English?
Outcome of Unity for Gallaudet
The board of trustees, recognizing that Fernandes would be unable to lead
effectively without support from the University community, terminated Fernandes'
appointment in late October 2006. The Middle States Commission on Higher
Education (MSCHE) put Gallaudet University on probationary status in June 2007,
putting pressure on the University to improve academically and to meet MSCHE
standards (including admissions, leadership, integrity, and retention).
Gallaudet University initially had to meet MSCHE standards by November 2008 in
order to get off probationary status. More members of the board of trustees
The University did well enough in its effort to get off probationary status that
on November 15, 2007 it was officially removed from probationary status by the
MSCHE and placed on "warning" status instead. In addition, the vote to remove
Gallaudet from probation was unanimous.
In early December 2006, Dr. Robert Davila, who has prior college administration
experience from running the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, was
selected as the "interim" president (now just president) of Gallaudet
University. Stephen Weiner, who had been one of the presidential candidates, was
selected as the new provost. Under Davila and Weiner's leadership, the
University immediately set about correcting deficiencies. For example, Gallaudet
tightened admissions standards. The University openly embraced bilingualism. To
slim down, the University reduced its staff.