11 October 2006

Interesting insight into the morally bankrupt nature of the protest

Standoff at Gallaudet
The wrong way to shape the university's future
Tuesday, October 10, 2006

STUDENTS AT Gallaudet University are entitled to protest the school's choice of president if they so choose. They're entitled to protest how that choice was made. They're not entitled to hold hostage the educational hopes of their classmates. Doing so undermines the legitimacy of their campaign and strikes at the heart of the nation's leading institution of higher education for the deaf.

Opposed to incoming President Jane K. Fernandes, student protesters have taken over the main educational building on the campus in Northeast Washington. For four days, campus life and learning have been disrupted. Officials have tried to relocate classes, but since Hall Memorial Building is home to most of the school's major academic departments, hundreds of students have been locked out of lectures, labs and midterm exams. Students say they won't leave unless Ms. Fernandes steps down and a new search for a president is undertaken, while the board of trustees says those are the only two items it will not negotiate.

One only has to watch the faces and hands of the students to appreciate the depth of their anger. It is more difficult to discern what is behind that anger. The protest started with complaints that Ms. Fernandes, who attended mainstream schools as a child and learned to sign when she was 23, is not the best choice to lead a school that is a touchstone for the deaf. Then there were charges that the search process was fixed; then, grievances about a lack of racial diversity among the candidates, classes that don't prepare students and poor graduation rates. Most absurd was the grumbling that a student center was being named for outgoing President I. King Jordan, who, ironically, became the school's first deaf president because of student protests.

The students who have barricaded themselves behind the walls of Hall Memorial Building say they are acting in the best interests of the university. Tell that to the students who are juggling jobs and school to get a diploma, or to the parents who are sacrificing to widen their children's futures. If the protesters really care about Gallaudet, they will open up the halls to learning and work toward reaching a middle ground.

University officials have been willing to make concessions; they agreed, for instance, to an outside review of the search process, only to have the students withdraw that demand. Students could get involved in the search for a new provost or push for a student vote on the board of trustees.There is no doubt -- given the bitterness of the controversy -- that Gallaudet has deep-seated problems. Ms. Fernandes, well qualified in every way, faces an unenviable job. That she still wants to do it should be one reason to give her a chance


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