NEAL CONAN, host:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Last month, we scheduled an exit interview with I. King Jordan, the outgoing president of Gallaudet University. He was unable to join us due to a crisis on the Gallaudet campus. A protest over the choice of Jordan's successor escalated so far that angry students blocked the gates of the school and effectively shut it down. After three weeks of demonstrations that included arrests, hunger strikes and two takeovers of campus buildings, the school's board of trustees backed down.
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Unidentified Woman: Yes. To the Gallaudet heroes. And thank you to the board. Let the healing begin, please. Let the healing begin.
CONAN: President Jordan is with us today to speak publicly for the first time since his campus was so bitterly divided. Eighteen years ago, his own appointment as president followed a series of protests as an earlier generation demanded a deaf president now. As that first deaf president, I. King Jordan led Gallaudet from college to university and dramatically increased the school's endowment, and he won recognition as a kind of ambassador from the deaf community. As you'll hear, he also has his critics.
Today, we'll talk about the protests, his tenure as president and the very real issues facing deaf students and Gallaudet University.
If you have questions for I. King Jordan or about the future of Gallaudet and deaf education, please join the conversation. We're providing real-time captioning of this program at our Web site. For more information on the captioning, go to npr.org/deafculture - deafculture is all one word. Our telephone number is 800-989-8255, that's 800-989-TALK. And our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I. King Jordan is with us here in Studio 3A today. Brad Leon is interpreting my words for Mr. Jordan, who speaks for himself. And President Jordan, thanks very much for being with us today.
Dr. I. KING JORDAN (President, Gallaudet University): Thank you, Neal. I'm delighted to be here. It's really a wonderful opportunity for me to have a chance to talk about my presidency and talk about Gallaudet University. And you may not know this, but I'm celebrating my 40th anniversary at Gallaudet. I first set foot on the campus as a freshman in the fall of 1966, so I've been part of the Gallaudet community for a long, long time, and I'm really eager for a chance to talk about what Gallaudet's all about. Thank you.
CONAN: We have to begin by asking you about the crisis that ended, I guess, just about a month ago. I wonder how you're feeling about it now that you've had a chance to get a couple of deep breaths and get some perspective on it.
Dr. JORDAN: I'm glad that it's over. I'm glad that we're now focusing our energies on paying attention to the good, strategic plan that we've developed and focusing our interests on the future of Gallaudet University and the future of deaf ed.
CONAN: In your mind, what was this protest all about?
Dr. JORDAN: It's hard for me to say what the protest was about because the issues seemed to keep changing. The target, if you will, for the protest was changing all the time. It seemed to be against something. Instead of a protest for a reason or cause, it was against an individual, and that's probably why it was so divisive.
CONAN: The individual was Jane Fernandes, who was nominated to be the next president of Gallaudet University. And one of the complaints that the students had, some of the protestors, was that in fact, she seemingly was groomed by you to be your successor and that the process of selecting a president wasn't truly open - that all candidates weren't listened to with equal weight.
Dr. JORDAN: I would disagree with that. I think that the process was very open, inclusive and fair. To use the phrase that she was groomed by me, I'm very proud that I was her mentor. She was an outstanding provost, and she was very highly qualified to be a president. I regret that she wasn't given the chance.
CONAN: Have you spoken with her in the past month?
Dr. JORDAN: Oh, several times, several times. She's fine. She's doing very well. She's a very strong individual. Anyone who followed the protest and who followed the personal attacks and know about those things know that she must be a very strong person.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. The protests took on - at some point, they were about procedure, they were about a lot of issues. But they also took on issues of personality, and they became very personal. She was denounced. You were denounced. That can't be something pleasant after 40 years at one institution.
Dr. JORDAN: Well, it's not a pleasant thing, but I'm sure you know that in a protest, people will do anything to achieve the ends that they want, and I'm past that. I'm not paying attention now to the personal attacks anymore. I'm not paying any attention at all to that.
CONAN: So as far as you're concerned, this was not about you?
Dr. JORDAN: I don't think it was about me, no. I'm very sure that it was not about me.
CONAN: In retrospect, would you have done things differently?
Dr. JORDAN: Well, it's hard to talk about the protest and about what happened because what's over is over. I would much rather talk about what I will do and what the university will do and how we're really well-positioned to talk about the future of Gallaudet and the future of deaf education.
CONAN: Ms. Fernandes, in her defense, said that she thought that, in a sense, this demonstration and this protest were, at least in part, about a feeling that she was not deaf enough. Was that a part of these protests, do you think?
Dr. JORDAN: That issue arose, and that issue was talked about, but I don't think it was Dr. Fernandes who raised the issue. I think that was first raised by students on the very day that her appointment was announced. And it's unfortunate that that issue became so divisive.
CONAN: Was it a surprise to you after your presidency was born in protest that there would be protest at the end of your presidency?
Dr. JORDAN: I don't know if you've ever heard me talk about 1988 and talk about what happened in 1988, but honestly, while that began as a student protest, it very quickly became a social movement. And I don't think of it as a protest. It was very unifying. It was about a cause. I was the first deaf person to become president of a university that was 124 years old - 124 years and there had never been a deaf person. So everybody came together to support something. It was for something. And this recent protest was really against something.
CONAN: And the - let's see if we can get some callers in on this conversation. If you'd like to join us, our number is 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com, and we'll begin with Michelle, Michelle calling us from Rockville in Maryland.
MICHELLE (Caller): Yes, hi. First, I'd like to thank you for taking my call.
MICHELLE: And it's a pleasure to have this opportunity to ask President Jordan - I'm a sign-language interpreter in Rockville, and I had been told by many deaf individuals that it was the changes Ms. Fernandes was making at the university, where many students were lost from Kendall School. Many deaf students had to leave Kendall School or Maryland secondary school and actually go to Maryland school for the deaf, and she didn't care about that. And she was implementing other changes, as well as when she addressed the students at Gallaudet. She, herself, didn't sign. Instead, she used a sign-language interpreter, and is this all true? I'll take the…
Dr. JORDAN: I'm really glad to have your call, and I'm glad to hear this.
CONAN: And thank you, Michelle.
Dr. JORDAN: Oh, okay, I'm sorry for interrupting there.
CONAN: That's okay.
Dr. JORDAN: But I can tell you for sure that Dr. Fernandes never used a sign-language interpreter. See, the blogs and the postings on the Web sites all over the place talked about the fact that she didn't learn to sign until she was 23 years old, and that's true. But she became a very fluent signer, a very capable signer and a very strong advocate for sign language and American Sign Language, specifically. So to suggest that she used a sign language interpreter (unintelligible), that's absolutely false. I can guarantee that never happened.
CONAN: And why would that be of such symbolic importance to students at Gallaudet, to the deaf community?
Dr. JORDAN: Oh, the whole issue about Gallaudet - why Gallaudet exists and why Gallaudet is so important is communication access. At Gallaudet, everybody signs. At Gallaudet, all communication is visual. Everything that's communicated is communicated in the air. So to have someone who's a leader who isn't able to sign would not be a very positive thing. But as I said, Dr. Fernandes was a very fluent signer.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. One of the issues that was also raised by your critics and hers was the issue of academic standards at Gallaudet University, the feeling that to keep the enrollment up that people who were not qualified to get in were being allowed in to Gallaudet, and indeed, that graduation rates continued to hover below the targets of achievements that Gallaudet had set for itself.
Dr. JORDAN: The academic standards at Gallaudet, I'm happy to talk about our strategic plan for the future. But I'm also happy to talk about currently, academic standards are rigorous, and especially graduation standards are rigorous. We have med students who will be challenged to complete the program. But those who complete the program, for example, more than half of the people who graduate with a bachelor's degree from Gallaudet will go on to earn an advanced degree, and that's about twice the national average. So the value of an education at Gallaudet is really unquestioned, and the fact that so many people go to graduate school - other graduate schools - is testament to the quality of a Gallaudet education.
CONAN: Here's a quote that - from the Washington Post from faculty chair Mark Weinberg: “The unstated fear among many faculty is that Gallaudet administration is so desperate for warm bodies that they'll go out and yank people off the street who don't have the skills or who are not ready for the college experience.”
Dr. JORDAN: I regret that that quote appeared in the newspaper. It's just wrong. I disagree with it completely. The students who are accepted at Gallaudet have the potential to succeed.
CONAN: Have the potential to succeed. The other question, then, is the graduation rates. And you talked about the 40 percent graduation rate. At most institutions, that's apparently done over a six-year period. You calculated it differently at Gallaudet, as far as I understand.
Dr. JORDAN: The graduation rate at Gallaudet obviously not what we would like for it to be. We want the graduation rate to improve. But it's really important to note that people who don't graduate from Gallaudet still - great benefit from the Gallaudet University experience. As I said, those who do graduate know it changes their lives. They get good jobs. They get high-paying jobs. They get advanced degrees. They become leaders.
CONAN: We're going to take a short break and encourage more of your calls. 800-989-8255 is our number. 800-989-TALK. And the e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Our guest today is I. King Jordan, the outgoing president of Gallaudet University. And when we get back from the break, we're going to be focusing more on the future of deaf education and the future of Gallaudet University. I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. On tomorrow's program, Murray Horowitz returns with some of the best holiday movies of all time. You can e-mail us now with your holiday favorites: Christmas, Hanukah, New Years - any holiday film. The address is email@example.com. And tomorrow, join us on TALK OF THE NATION. Today, we're talking about the challenges that lie ahead for deaf education and for Gallaudet University, the country's premiere school for the deaf. Our guest of the hour is I. King Jordan. He's currently president at Gallaudet and plans to retire at the end of this year. This is the first time he's speaking publicly since the uproar on campus over his replacement.
Brad Leon is interpreting my words for President Jordan. Again, we're providing real-time captioning of this program at our Web site. For more information on how to access the captioning, you can go to npr.org/deafculture - deafculture all one word. And if you have questions for I. King Jordan about the future of Gallaudet and deaf education, please give us a call. Our number: 800-989-8255 -800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. And let's get another caller on. This is Evelyn, Evelyn with us from here in Washington, D.C.
EVELYN (Caller): Hi, thanks for taking my call.
EVELYN: I just wanted to let you know I have a daughter who is hearing impaired, and I was a little disappointed that the students won in the confrontation because I think Gallaudet used to be more inclusive of all forms of deafness. You know, as the parent of a hearing impaired child, I want her to be able to function in a hearing world. And it just seems that the students didn't want to accept anyone that would go into the deaf culture with a capital D, who weren't willing to just sign and to give up the cochlear implants and the hearing aid and any other device that would be an aid to hearing. And I just thought it was a shame that the students won in the confrontation this summer. Thank you.
Dr. JORDAN: I'd be happy to respond to that, if I may. I think it's really important for you to know that the board of trustees last year approved a strategic plan for Gallaudet's future that is very simple. It has eight specific goals. And the very first goal is that Gallaudet would be an inclusive deaf university. And then in that goal that defines an inclusive deaf university, to include people who are deaf in many different ways. The university embraces technology that helps all kinds of deaf people. You may not know this, but we have a cochlear implant education center at our Kendall elementary school. We have a demonstration elementary school and a demonstration high school.
And at the cochlear implant education center, for part of the day, children communicate in sign language, and for part of the day they practice their speaking and listening skills - really the perfect way for a young, deaf child to achieve.
EVELYN: Well, our daughter has been in a hearing schools her whole life, and one of the things we did this summer was we wanted her to become familiar with the deaf culture. And so we signed her up at Gallaudet for an American Sign Language course. And she came back and she said she was a little disappointed. She felt that it was a little bit too militant. No one wanted her to speak. They really weren't interested in fostering anything other than American Sign Language. And I now understand not many hearing-impaired people use American Sign Language. So it was just a little disheartening for me, so I don't know.
CONAN: You talked about - I. King Jordan, you talked about this inclusiveness as part of the strategic plan. Nevertheless, that did seem to be an aspect of what this demonstration was about this fall.
Dr. JORDAN: There are people who don't embrace the idea of inclusion, but there are people - more people - who do embrace the idea of inclusion. And it's very important, I believe, for the future of people like Michelle's daughter that we recognize that there are many different ways to be deaf in the world, and that we recognize that people have a right to choose how they will be deaf. And then they have a responsibility to help them achieve.
CONAN: Okay. Evelyn, thanks for the call.
EVELYN: Thank you.
CONAN: Good luck with your daughter.
EVELYN: I will. Bye-bye.
Dr. JORDAN: Oh, I said Michelle. I'm sorry. Her name was Evelyn, Michelle was the first caller. Evelyn, I'm very sorry that I got your name wrong.
CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Sheila in Middletown, Connecticut: this event at Gallaudet happened during a time that has been very difficult for the deaf community under the Bush administration. For example, the long-time federal funding for the National Theatre for the Deaf and Deaf West Theatre has been completely eliminated. Now with the high-profile Senator John McCain abruptly resigning from the Gallaudet board, do you think this will damage the efforts and credibility of the many people working tirelessly to regain federal support for these other deaf culture causes?
Dr. JORDAN: I don't think it will damage things. I can't speak for Senator McCain, but he made very public his rationale for resigning. He disagreed with the board's decision and said it wasn't fair and wasn't in the best interest of the university. But I know a little something about the funding for the National Theatre for the Deaf, and I know that was just a clerical mistake in pushing a bill through Congress. And I'm very sure that someone is going to find a way to fix that mistake.
CONAN: In the year 2000, Gallaudet University was terrorized by a series of threats and murders, and with us today is the father of murdered student Eric Plunkett. Craig Plunkett joins us from Portland, Oregon. And it's good to have you on the program, Craig.
Mr. CRAIG PLUNKETT (Father of Eric Plunkett): Well, thank you.
CONAN: You wrote an editorial in the Washington Post that supported I. King Jordan and Jane Fernandes. Why?
Mr. PLUNKETT: Well, I - my wife and I were back in D.C. for I. King Jordan and Linda's retirement party dinner, and we were on the campus of that week that there was - that the students were demonstrating, and it really upset us to see how that campus was being torn apart. And then reading the articles in the Post, that was just another part of being upset.
CONAN: Mm-hmm. Why were you so upset?
Mr. PLUNKETT: Well, I - because we - through the last six years, we have been able to be back on that campus many, many times, and we feel that - my wife and I feel a very strong bond with the people on that campus: I. King Jordan, Linda, Jane, and many other people on that campus. And…
CONAN: When you say Jane, Jane Fernandes.
Mr. PLUNKETT: Jane Fernandes. And we've got to know them as actual human beings, and we've been able to sit down and become friends - very close friends. I believe that we're very close friends with King and Linda and Jane Fernandes.
CONAN: And clearly, how did they help you through the awfulness of having your child murdered?
Mr. PLUNKETT: Well, what they did is they reached out to us. We came back on that campus two or three days after Eric was found murdered, and there was a small group of people that reached out to us: King, Linda, Jane Fernandes. They wanted to comfort us. They wanted to, you know, show that they loved us as parents, but also that this was a traumatic experience for them also and - but they wanted to - you know, they bent over backwards to show us a love and kindness and shepherd us when we were back there on that campus - shepherd us through all these difficult things we had to go through.
CONAN: And do you two still feel like part of the Gallaudet community?
Mr. PLUNKETT: Oh yeah, yeah. We still, no matter what happens on Gallaudet - on the campus - we still feel a strong bond because we have the Eric Plunkett Video Library that we dedicated. And Gallaudet was gracious enough to take Eric's room and open it up and make a video library out of his room for the students of Gallaudet. And so his family - Eric's family - has donated movies for the students and the Gallaudet - the people at Gallaudet have put money into it, and so and Eric has Eric's Eric memorial scholarship fund that a few students that came from Minnesota started, and that has been growing. So, yes, we feel a very strong bond to Gallaudet.
CONAN: Craig Plunkett, thanks very much for being with us today. We appreciate your time.
Mr. PLUNKETT: Thank you very much.
CONAN: Craig Plunkett, the father of Eric Plunkett who was murdered on the Gallaudet campus in 2000, and he joined us today from Portland, Oregon. Let me see if we can get another caller on the line…
Dr. JORDAN: May I say something about Craig Plunkett?
CONAN: Certainly, go head.
Dr. JORDAN: May I say something there?
CONAN: Yeah. And William's on the line. Hold on, William, we'll be right with you.
Dr. JORDAN: Okay. The only positive thing that came out of the Eric Plunkett situation was getting to know Craig and Lois Plunkett and Cathleen and Chris Cornell(ph), the family of Eric. And I listened to him say that we comforted him. It was really marvelous how strong our family was and how they reached out and comforted the university. It was a very difficult time on campus, and without their strength it would've been much more difficult. So thank you, Craig.
CONAN: All right. William is on the line with us now - William calling from Cincinnati.
WILLIAM (Caller): Yes, thank you very much. I had a two-part question. It's more a general one. You know, my daughter is deaf and she's eight years now old. And coming from a family that wasn't deaf, I found the experiences - you know, we had her in private school for a while, and last year it didn't work out. We moved her public. She's accelerating at a huge level.
The two things that I have points to make on is that, one, I found that the deaf community itself - the old one in Cincinnati that had been established for so long - very closed, very sheltered, and in terms of not as good at imparting information.
The second thing that I found was that, you know, we had a director over there that said as far as I can see, the family has been running it for so long. And I just ask gentleman would he tell me what do you think is a good, fair time that a family or a director should stay in the university similar to yourselves with special needs?
Thank you. I'll wait your call.
CONAN: Okay, William. Thanks very much for the call.
Dr. JORDAN: I'm very happy to know that your daughter is doing well in school. You'll probably aware that the majority of children who are deaf are educated in public schools, in the mainstream. And that's good. I'm glad that she's succeeding. I think it's important to remember that deaf children, no matter where they're educated, have very special needs. And the most important of those needs is visual communication. That we can't hear, so we need our eyes to learn.
Apparently, the school where she's located is doing a good job with that, and I'm glad to hear that. In terms of specifying a number of years for somebody to lead an organization, there's no number. There's no number. Some people should stay a very short time. Some people should stay a very long time. And honestly, I am not familiar with the center you're talking about, so I can't talk specifically about that.
CONAN: Our guest today is I. King Jordan, the outgoing president of Gallaudet University. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is a student - I'm sorry, I'm just looking at my producer. Where is this call? Nikita's on the line with us in Oklahoma City. Nikita, can you hear us? I'm sorry, which line is it? There we go. There you go. Nikita. Hello, Nikita, are you there?
NIKITA (Caller): Yes, I'm here.
CONAN: Okay. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
NIKITA: Okay. Can you explain how your election as president of Gallaudet College in 1988 to improve the world today? I guess, today?
CONAN: I think she's taking notes for her essay that she's going to be writing. But go ahead.
Dr. JORDAN: Okay. Thank you very much, Nikita. Let me tell you that I will be in Oklahoma City this summer, the National Association of - oh, let's see, the HLAA - Hearing Loss Association of America, used to be called Self-Help for the Hard of Hearing, will have their national conference in Oklahoma City in June.
So come see me and meet me in person. How did I improve the lives of deaf people? What happened is the lives of deaf people improved because people who are not deaf saw that I was a successful president. When I succeeded as president, they saw, oh, deaf people can do this high-level job. So if deaf people can do that, then they can probably do other jobs as well.
And I think the most important success I had - the most important thing I've accomplished in 19 years as president of Gallaudet is to have succeeded as president. Because in doing so, I become a model for success and other people -young and old alike - know that they can succeed as well.
CONAN: Nikita, I understand you're in a classroom.
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CONAN: Nikita's a little nervous, I think. Nikita, you there?
NIKITA: Yes, I'm here.
CONAN: Okay. And what are you asking this question for? On behalf of the class, or you're working…
NIKITA: Yes, I'm in class right now.
CONAN: And you're working on a project? Okay, well good -
NIKITA: I wanted to know...
CONAN: When is it due?
CONAN: When is your project due?
NIKITA: It's not really a project. It's just like a discussion in class.
CONAN: Well, thanks very much for including us. We appreciate it.
NIKITA: We were - huh?
CONAN: Go ahead, finish up.
NIKITA: Can't even hear him.
CONAN: She's hard time hearing me, so we'll let her go. But thank Nikita very much for her call. And we just have a minute or so before we have to go to the next break, President Jordan. And I did want to ask, you talked about your success as a deaf man as the head of an important institution. To some degree, I wonder if you've been a victim of your own success, where so many promising college students who are deaf now go on to places like Harvard or Ohio State University or the University of California at Berkeley instead of coming to Gallaudet, partly because they saw you succeed.
Dr. JORDAN: Well, I think that's really a wonderful question, and it's really an important question. Because with the Americans With Disabilities Act, people can go to any college or university where that college and university now has the responsibility to provide support services for them.
But the most interesting thing is that when they go there, they're still deaf. They're still different. They're still disabled. When they come to Gallaudet, they don't have to pay attention to that difference. They're not different at Gallaudet.
So not only do you have full communication access all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week at Gallaudet University, but there you can pay more attention to the academic rigor, to the zoology class, to the business class. You don't have to pay attention to your deafness.
CONAN: I. King Jordan is our guest. When we come back, more of your calls for him. 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail: email@example.com.
I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
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CONAN: This is the TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
Today, our guest is I. King Jordan. We're talking about the challenges of deaf education. He's the current president of Gallaudet University and plans to retire at the end of this year. And a reminder, we're providing real-time captioning of the conversation today at our Web site. For more information on how to access live captioning, you can go to npr.org/deafculture. Again, deafculture is all one word.
If you have questions for I. King Jordan about Gallaudet or deaf education, give us a call: 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.
And let's go to Angela - Angela with us from Ann Arbor in Michigan.
ANGELA (Caller): Hi. I just had a question for I. King Jordan. Actually, both of my parents are deaf, and you are a great inspiration to both of them when you were elected president of Gallaudet University. I was a very small child when it happened, but I just remember my parents being elated at your becoming president of the university.
Actually, my question was both of my parents when through deaf schools, and so both of my parents were very aware of the option of Gallaudet after they graduated from high school. Both of them chose other paths, but what are you doing to reach out to deaf children out there more in mainstream schools to know that Gallaudet is an option for them when they graduate to be part of deaf culture? And I'll take my answer off the air.
CONAN: Thanks, Angela.
Dr. JORDAN: That's a very wonderful question. And I can tell you that I'm reaching out right now. You've heard some of the other callers are parents of young, deaf children. I'm hoping that many people out there who are listening are parents of deaf children. We have a very active recruitment strategy, where we visit mainstream programs and schools for the deaf.
We ask our alumni all over the country - all over the world, actually - to identify potential students who are in the mainstream, tell them about Gallaudet. We sometimes fly students to Gallaudet to give them the experience of visiting campus so they can see what Gallaudet really is about, not see what's posted on the Web sites.
So we are reaching out, and we need to reach out because the population is changing and the school placements are changing. And we want the students to come to Gallaudet.
CONAN: Why is it so difficult to keep enrollment levels at Gallaudet high?
Dr. JORDAN: You asked the question about choices, about people who can go to Harvard and Ohio State University. And you may know that Ohio State University - I'm very familiar with the program they have there. They have a wonderful program in American Sign Language and wonderful support services for students.
So as a parent, you know, I would want my child to have those kinds of choices. As a deaf man, I would want to have those kinds of choices. But as the president of Gallaudet University, I want them to come to Gallaudet. So that's our challenge. We're not the only show in town anymore. We're still Gallaudet. We're still unique. We're the only place where deafness is not a difference, and where communications access really is total.
But there are so many options, that we have to compete to bring the best and brightest to Gallaudet.
CONAN: Let's get Debbie on the line. And Debbie's calling us from Delaware.
DEBBIE (Caller): Hi.
DEBBIE: This is Debbie, and I used to work at Kendall School. And Jane Fernandes was, at the time, the - before she was the president-elect, she was the vice principal of the program that I was involved with there. And I worked under her, she was my supervisor. And it was a very difficult year for me.
And I know that as I've left and since that time, I realize now in retrospect how difficult that year really was. She's very intimidating, very threatening. She was a person liked to make staff feel inferior. And my concern, I guess, is that during the entire time of the protest, Gallaudet University used the deaf card.
They said, well, you know, she's not deaf enough and that's why the students are protesting, but that wasn't the issue. And I'm wondering now today why you're not offering a different perspective. I mean, this has been a long time since I've worked with Jane Fernandes. And I think the choice that the board made did not reflect the desire of the stakeholders, of the faculty and staff, of the alumni and of the deaf community at large.
Instead, what they were doing is trying to use the deaf card and get her in as a deaf person. And that's, I guess, what concerns me, is using that card instead of really addressing her qualifications and her issues and different things in her history of having a variety of conflicts with a variety of people, from teachers all the way up to administration.
CONAN: Debbie, can I ask, are you interpreting for someone?
DEBBIE: (Through interpreter) I am a deaf person. I have an interpreter here with me who's interpreting for me.
CONAN: Thank you very much. And the deaf person's name is Debbie. (unintelligible). All right, let's get a response from I. King Jordan.
Dr. JORDAN: Hi. I'm glad to hear your question. I want you to know that the Jane Fernandes you describe is not the Jane Fernandes that I know. Obviously, I said at the beginning of the show that the protest was divisive, and clearly, this is an indication of how it was divisive.
I also want you to know that Gallaudet didn't, quote, “play the deaf card.” The issue about not deaf enough was raised by the students in an objection to her appointment, and we never, quote, “played that card.”
I'm sorry that you felt that way. I know a very different individual who not only fosters professional development of staff, but insists on development of staff.
DEBBIE: (Through interpreter) I guess I'm just very concerned about that, because I know that when I left Gallaudet - when I left Kendall, and I came to work at Delaware School for the Deaf, I had an exit interview. That was 11 years ago, and I shared the same concerns at that time. And now you're telling me that you're not aware of these things, and I know that that's just not true.
And the second thing is in the press, when they talked about Jane Fernandes or when you were being interviewed yourself, you know, I feel like there, you know, she kept bringing that issue up. And I don't think the students really used that issue. I think that's a difference of opinion about how that issue really was brought up.
I also know that when you're interviewing - you're being interviewed on NPR, and you're the president of Gallaudet. I don't know if the Gallaudet Alumni Association president was invited or other people were invited to share their viewpoints and share their perspectives on this particular show.
CONAN: Well, I can answer that last part, Debbie, and the invitation was to I. King Jordan as the most prominent deaf education in the United States as an exit interview on his departure from Gallaudet University. That was our original offer, and that's the way we decided to keep it. But thank you very much for the call, and we're going to move on.
Let's go to Michael, and Michael's with us from Newton, Massachusetts.
MICHAEL (Caller): Yes, hello.
MICHAEL: Thanks for taking my call.
MICHAEL: I'm calling as the father of a hearing-impaired daughter, and like one of the previous callers, interested in where that person fits into the world. It seems that she's between two worlds in a very tough spot - is a wonderful person who chose to be part of the hearing world because she has a mission in terms the nonprofit world - got straight A's at University of Michigan and works - volunteers now for a nonprofit group, which she couldn't do if she were deaf - completely deaf.
But she really, you know, doesn't feel welcome in the deaf community. She tried to be part of the deaf community in high school, but, you know, the hearing-impaired - hearing impairment versus deaf really was not a good situation for her, as people might guess.
And I'm wondering what can someone like that do, this is a very kind person, a good person, you know - would like it if the deaf community were inclusive. And what just advice do you have for someone like that?
Dr. JORDAN: The description, I guess, sounds a lot like people I know and sounds like people who become deaf later. For example, I myself became deaf when I was 21 years old. I'm speaking on the radio, but I'm basically deaf as a post. I said earlier in the show that there are many ways to be deaf in the world, and I also said that people have every right to choose how they decide to be deaf in the world.
I think it's important that if people reach out to others, that they can communicate easily with each other. I'm able to sign and understand American Sign Language, and that's a huge benefit for me. I don't know if your daughter is a skilled signer, but if she can sign, I would be very surprised if she wouldn't be welcome among people who are deaf.
MICHAEL: Yeah. She doesn't sign, didn't grow up signing, and feels like she may have missed the point in time when it's easy to learn that. She seems to have the notion that if you don't learn it at a certain age, it's very difficult, but…
Dr. JORDAN: I think you can learn - I'd say I didn't learn until I - I didn't even start signing until I was 21. I meet students at Gallaudet who become deaf in their 30s who learn to sign in their 30s and their 40s. And while people like me will never be native - you know, deaf people who are native can look at my signing and know that I'm not native - we still can sign well enough that we can have communication and have real, meaningful exchanges with people. I encourage your daughter to learn to sign.
CONAN: Michael, we wish her the best of luck.
CONAN: Okay. Thanks very much for the call. We're talking today with I. King Jordan, the outgoing president of Gallaudet University. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255 - 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is email@example.com. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.
And let's get Katie on the air, Katie calling from Tucson, Arizona.
KATIE (Caller): Hi.
KATIE: I have a question about literacy. I know that, historically, regardless of where people are educated, there've been pretty low percentages of deaf children growing up and being able to read and write English very well. And my question is more and more people are using e-mail and texting to keep in touch with each other rather than TTY and older things, and I'm wondering if you think that that will have any impact one way or another on literacy.
Dr. JORDAN: Absolutely. I know it will have an impact. I can see an impact now. Text pagers, for example, are really wonderful for people like me. And young people are using text pagers - younger and younger ages. To do that, you have to use English. The more you use English, the better you become at using English. So there's no question at all that will have a very positive impact on literacy.
CONAN: Why is it that such a - I forget the exact percentage, and I think the number's pretty old, but so many deaf students graduate high school or leave high school reading a fourth-grade level?
Dr. JORDAN: See, the way you learned English and the way I learned English, because I was born and grew up hearing, is really just through osmosis. You hear and hear and hear it all the time, and then you learn all the rules by listening to it. People who are deaf have to learn it visually, and English is not a visual language. So it's a very, very challenging thing.
Some people succeed. Many people don't. What we have learned, for example, though, is that people who have a strong first language are better at learning a second language. So deaf children who learn American Sign Language as a first language can then very easily, or more easily, transition to learning English -written and read English.
CONAN: Okay. Katie, thanks very much for the call.
KATIE: Thank you.
CONAN: And this is Sheera(ph) - Sheera's with us VRS, Video Relay Service. She's calling from Boston.
SHEERA (Caller): (Through Video Relay Service) Yes, that's correct. Calling from Gallaudet University, as what many would call the heart of the deaf community. So what do you see as the role of the president of the university? It seems what is sought is someone who is an ambassador for the university and the deaf community: effective bridge-builder, while focusing on the academic rigors of the university - which also seems to be one of the focal points of the protests. So do you think it is possible for a person to embody fully what it means to be a Gallaudet president, and how do you feel you have reflected this during your tenure?
Dr. JORDAN: Wow, wow. That's a very important issue. I think that first and foremost, the president of a university, any university, has to be someone with very rigorous academic credentials, someone who's an academic leader, someone who's a scholar, someone who can foster the best in other scholars.
The issue of the president of Gallaudet University being an ambassador is important, but it's only possible if that person is also a successful university president. I did become a spokesperson for people who are deaf and hard of hearing, but I was a successful spokesperson only because I was first a successful university president.
Is it possible for that to happen? Yes, I believe it's possible. But I think that the first characteristic that should be looked at in selecting a president is is that individual and academician? Is that individual an academic leader?
CONAN: And an administrator. Obviously, the role of president of a university requires a great deal of skill in that regard, as well.
Dr. JORDAN: Sure, sure. You should know how to juggle.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: Juggling is important. Sheera, thanks very much for the call. We appreciate it. She was calling via Video Relay Service, so that was one of our deaf callers.
I'd like to ask you, President Jordan, you mentioned at the beginning of this program you're just coming up on your 40th anniversary at Gallaudet University. Are you going to continue at Gallaudet now that you've been - after the protests and all the bitterness that it engendered?
Dr. JORDAN: Oh, absolutely. I really cherish Gallaudet, and I know Gallaudet has a very, very strong future. Next year, I'll be on a sabbatical leave, but then the year after that, I'll come back and teach. How long I'll stay at Gallaudet, I don't know. I think my primary goal in life right now is to become a spokesperson and advocate for the rights of people who are deaf and disabled.
It was interesting that Sheera's call was on VRS, because we talk about technology, and VRS is a very really wonderful technology to help deaf people make phone calls that, just a few years ago, didn't even exist. So technology is changing so fast that I'll stay affiliated with Gallaudet. I'll have to stay affiliated just to keep up with all of the great changes that are happening.
CONAN: And in this year off, what will you be doing then? Teaching, writing?
Dr. JORDAN: I plan to travel, scuba dive, ski, run, do some mountain-trail restoration work. I don't plan to do a lot of academic work this year. I've been in academics for 40 years. I think it's a good time for me to take a year off.
CONAN: Have a great time.
(Soundbite of laughter)
CONAN: I. King Jordan, the president of Gallaudet University, who steps down at the end of this year. We appreciate his time, and we thank him for being with us today here in Studio 3A. Our thanks also to Brad Leon for interpreting my words for President Jordan. We'll post a transcript of today's conversation on our Web site, npr.org at about 5:00 this afternoon, Eastern Time. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.
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