Gallaudet President Removed After Protests

JOHN YDSTIE, host: Most students at Gallaudet University, the nation's liberal arts college for the deaf, were celebrating last night. The school's board of trustees bowed to pressure and reversed its choice of a controversial administrator to be the school's next president. NPR's Joseph Shapiro has more:

JOSEPH SHAPIRO, reporter: Word spread quickly across campus. Students got the news by e-mail, and by checking the websites of deaf bloggers. Then they gathered on campus where they popped open bottles of champagne, and greeted members of the board of trustees:

PAMELA LLOYD-OGOKE: Hello my name is Pam Lloyd-Ogoke.

SHAPIRO: A sign language interpreter speaks.

LLOYD-OGOKE: I'm from North Carolina and I'm a board member. Let the healing begin. Please let the healing begin.

SUSAN ELLIOT: My name is Susan Elliot. I'm from Colorado and I'm also a board member. Let the healing begin.

SHAPIRO: Until this moment, the board had been the target of anger — not cheers. The protests started last May, the very moment the board announced Jane Fernandes as its choice to be Gallaudet's next president.

Fernandes is a deaf woman with 11 years experience as an administrator. But her style and some of her decisions had made her very unpopular with students and faculty.

Protesters had blocked every gate to campus for three days earlier this month. Administrators responded by ordering the arrests of one hundred and thirty-three demonstrators.

But the protests only grew — and got angrier.

Harvey Goodstein is another board member. He signed as an interpreter spoke.

GOODSTEIN: Everybody is hurt. Everybody is hurting. The board members were hurt. Students are hurting. Faculty, staff hurting. So we're really looking forward to some positive healing process and I think that's what's to come.

SHAPIRO: The board of trustees met in a day long emergency session. Some felt they'd chosen the best candidate last May, and to back off now would undermine the board's authority.

But in the end, the trustees decided the only way to end the crisis was to start the presidential search all over.

Jim Petrusich is a graduate student. He rushed to campus to celebrate — where students had pitched tents and blocked the main gates for more than three weeks.

PETRUSICH: Gallaudet University is more than a university. It's a cultural center so we need a leader for both a university and a cultural center. So that's what we're going to get.

SHAPIRO: The president of Gallaudet is seen as a kind of ambassador to the hearing world. And students like Petrusich didn't want Fernandes in that role.

Many didn't trust her because she grew up reading lips and speaking — before she learned American Sign Language. And often, when she spoke to hearing people, she used her own voice.

Last night, Fernandes expressed "deep regret." She said: "I love Gallaudet University and I believe I could have made a significant contribution to its future."

Joseph Shapiro, NPR NEWS.

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