Sunday, November 05, 2006

Two strikes by the Gallaudet Board of Trustees

Two strikes by the Gallaudet Board of Trustees October 14, 2006 I was a student at Gallaudet for a couple of years back in the early 80's and it certainly held great memories for me. Naturally, I want the same for my two young deaf children and future generations, that is, if they choose to go to Gallaudet. I am very concerned about what is happening and it does affect everyone who cares about Gallaudet as well.It was heart-breaking to see my nephew along with one hundred thirty three brave souls arrested on Black Friday, October 13th, 2006. Now thousands of the Gallaudet community members are fighting for getting their voices heard at the Capitol Hill. Eighteen years ago the Board of Trustees (BoT) selected a hearing president over a qualified deaf president candidate that led to the protest we all know as DPN. Dr. Jack Gannon called this event "the week the world heard Gallaudet" and even wrote a book showing how the students were heard loud and clear. Now once again, the BoT repeats history but did not hear out the majority. In the past two weeks, we have seen an overwhelming number of supporters wanting the future Gallaudet president resign since she is not considered the right leader. A group of twenty members of the Board including I. King Jordan and a Presidential search committee have been a part of the process in recommending and selecting the future Gallaudet president.Although this website on Presidential search at Gallaudet has explained how search committee works, it is to the contrary of what the polls have reflected the Gallaudet community. According to the announcement by Leah Katz-Hernandez, she reported the statistics on a poll that was conduced at Gallaudet University during the finalist selection back in the spring of 2006. Gallaudet University Students polled 58% for Steve Weiner, 81% for Ron Stern and 13% for Jane Fernandes while the faculty polled 64% for Weiner, 53% for Stern and 36% for Fernandes. Why aren't the members of the board following the pulse of the Gallaudet popular choice? Why select a presidential candidate who is not popular among the community? How can an unwanted leader lead against a tsunami-like wave? Like some universities I have read about how search committees are formed and are commonly consist of alumni members, students, faculty members, staff members and active community members making recommendations that usually reflect their popular endorsement of the community members to their Board of Trustees (BoT) about top candidate. As for the Gallaudet world, the selection by the BoT for a president of a university that only serves a mere 1,461 students (Spring, 2006) has not correctly represented the majority. On October 16, 2006, 82% of the faculty voted for the 2007 Gallaudet president to resign. Dr. Alfred Simone, a current Rochester Institute of Technology president, further stated the following, "It is recognized that the decision really lies with the Board of Directors - it is they who have the fiduciary responsibility for the welfare of the university. However, solid principles of shared governance require that the Board solicit and listen carefully to input from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and other constituents, and that there will be conversations with these constituents so that as much information as possible can be obtained and as much understanding as possible can be achieved on all sides. This process should not be rushed. It should be deliberate and thorough. In the end of that process, the Board of Directors should make the decision that, in their judgment, is the best for Gallaudet. They have a unique point of view and a unique responsibility to make this decision. If the decision is made in this fashion, I would expect - certainly hope - that all the constituencies (whether they favor the decision or not) would support the new president whomever it is." There are two valid points made by Dr. Al Simone. His first point stressed the fact that the role of BoT is to listen carefully to the whole community. I am not talking about just appearing on campus just enough to be seen but to be in frequent contact to note the general perspective and to engage in thorough in-depth discourse with its diversified population. The BoT should hear and engage with various college constituencies, i.e. trustees, sponsors, faculty, students, administrative leaders, staff, collective bargaining units, and local community leaders. Dr Simone's second point reiterates the standard in the process of selecting a Presidential candidate should take its time frame extending a total of 6 to 12 months. According to this website by the University of Illinois, "the Committee agreed that it would be rare for a search at these levels to be completed in less than six months. However, such a search should be structured with the assumption that it will not exceed one year in length. In the event that it extends beyond one year from the date of the last published advertisement seeking applicants, the readvertisement of the position should be considered." The selection process took about 7 months and was criticized for not utilizing the entire allotted time frame considering the three finalists were not as qualified when compared to previous applicants or to known deaf leaders who had not yet applied. College search committees typically look for credentials that they can put on a checklist and use to narrow the list of candidates. A doctorate is an obvious requisite also having higher education experience. One of the finalists did not even hold a Ph.D degree nor hold a higher education background. Nevertheless, we should not let the timeline control us as it stated clearly that the re-advertisement of the position could be considered if the pool of the candidates was determined to fall short of the criteria. What the BoT overlooked when justifying that the selected candidate who possessed a top-notch resume was her lack of charisma. It is considered one of the most important qualities to have as a deaf leader in a community where the ability to relate and openly share feedback, comments and concerns is paramount.Gallaudet is a close-knit community with its unique characteristics but the BoT, including I.K. Jordan, have not aligned themselves with the choice of the majority. The calls of Gallaudet students, faculty, staff, alumni and constituents have apparently fallen on deaf ears. We must resolve this crisis by preventing a third strike to happen. Just communicate much more openly and be in sync with the population of the Gallaudet community. Barbara Di Giovanni

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