Random Thoughts and Musings by moi

Musings by a feisty, opinionated Deaf gal who wants nothing but the best for her community and her people

vendredi 21 avril 2006

The Topic du Jour in the Deaf-World

All over the United States for the past few weeks, pagers have been vibrating and humming. Blogs have been abuzz with people furiously typing entries and with others commenting on those entries. AIM, videophone, and face-to-face conversations have been consumed with one topic. What topic has the Deaf community in such a tizzy? Why, the impending selection of Gallaudet University’s next president, of course. Last week, the final three candidates were announced and all hell broke loose in the virtual and the real Deaf worlds.

This may be just another drop in the raging sea, but I have been following the events very closely and engaging in a lot of reading and talking. Mr. Sandman’s blog has a fine entry which directs the reader to some commonly used sources of information, so I will not repeat them here. One other source is the GallyNet listserv (click on the link to sign up).

After all this reading, poring, talking, and thinking, one thing is inescapably clear — this is not as simple as people are trying to make it seem. Something is incredibly wrong with this whole process, but people do not agree on the nature of the problem. There is a lot of disagreement on many things, including how to proceed with objections. This whole situation would make a perfect doctoral dissertation in sociology. It has been entertaining, yet saddening watching members of my community run the gamut from thoughtful discourse to “Oh, be quiet. Trust the process.” to heated personal attacks to illogical reasoning in order to support a point to allegations of racism and/or ageism. Check out GallyPresWatch.com for instances of all the above.

I, too, have strong opinions about this whole situation (debacle?), naturally. For one thing, I am amazed at how far we have come in eighteen years. The candidates’ deafness continue to be a topic under discussion. However, none of the candidates are hearing this time and the type of deafness being debated is not pathological; rather, it is cultural deafness. Quite a change.

Another issue this has raised is how we as deaf people treat our Deaf leaders. We as a community are too ready to criticize and tear them down. This has been a recurring issue for me in 2006, what with a local movement and other leadership situations. The Gallaudet presidency, however, has nationwide ramifications and it has invited comment from people all over the country. The websites and listservs where people are allowed to comment shine a bright light on how we can be our own worst enemy. Some of the comments are horribly cruel, as well as downright unnecessary. This is at the root of the problem this community has in finding qualified Deaf leaders to lead our agencies, schools, and organizations. Who wants to subject themselves to this type of intense criticism by people we socialize with, work with, and know on a personal level? Stern’s children have been dragged through the mud. Weiner’s ability to lead is being severely criticized and someone likened him to an affable puppy, which is a huge affront. Fraternity affiliations have become an issue. Fernandes’ appearance has been gleefully described by a few of her detractors. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Some people are upset at who made it into the final three and who didn’t, but they are resorting to very personal attacks on these three, which is totally uncalled for. Sadly, this is part of a larger pattern in this community whenever Deaf people apply for leadership positions.

This situation has caused some people to raise the ugly “R” word - racism. There appear to be many Deaf people of color who are convinced that Glenn Anderson’s absence from the short list reeks of racism, even though there is no evidence that bears this out, other than his non-presence. In fact, there is circumstantial evidence to the contrary, though it is, admittedly, quite flimsy. There are snippets floating around that Anderson has health problems, along with heated denials of any such health problems. Thus, the potential for Anderson’s health as a factor in derailing his presidential hopes *may* exist. Another may be his age. There’s a rumor going around that a committee member said he was excluded because he’s too old, but this has not been substantiated in any way. On GallyNet right now, if one doesn’t support Anderson, one is being called racist, no matter how thoughtful and well reasoned one’s response is. People have brought up his signing as an issue and a possible reason why he was not selected as a finalist. Since clear communication skills are crucial for a job of this type, this could be one factor among other unknowns that worked against Anderson. But if anyone dares to say so on this listserv, they are charged with holding signers to a white standard of signing and dismissing people of color. In fact, there is a serious movement at Gallaudet to get Anderson included on the list of finalists, based on the need for diversity. Since I grew up in the wonderfully colorful Bay Area, I’m all for diversity and I look forward to the nation’s first president of color, no matter what minority color it is. As a member of a minority, I’m all for support and promotion of people that are not white Protestant males. As a proud Deaf person, I am in awe of Anderson’s impressive list of contributions to our community and gladly concede that on paper he goes beyond meeting all the requirements for the job. But from where I stand (admittedly not in D.C. at the mo’), there appears to be no reason for this hue and cry. I’m afraid it is going to prove divisive, both on a local level and on a national level.

Since before I was a Gallaudet student, the community, both local and national, has been asking for a strong “D” deaf president when King Jordan retires. While many people were quick to point out that King is/was a good president, they want the next president to be more representative of core Deaf values. This has remained constant for more than fifteen years. Recently more and more people have been using a phrase, which has become a buzzword, to describe their vision for the next president - “Deaf-centered.” I, too, share this vision of a president who will embrace ASL and the Bilingual philosophy, who will fight to keep schools for the Deaf open, and who will value Deaf culture. A v-log can be found here that discusses the reasons for this need. Gallaudet has long been a place where the oral and the mainstreamed come to discover our wonderful Deaf-world and our beautiful language, and it must continue to be a place where everyone is warmly welcomed, no matter what their background is. (if it has stopped being so, that needs to be rectified, clearly) It is vital that our next president embody these values without being exclusionary. Blogs, websites, and e mails have expressed sentiments that oppose this belief, but the core community has been waiting for, nay, anticipating this opportunity for close to two decades now. (More another time about how our community has become fractured, how it hurts us, and how moving to a strong Deaf center can only be good for all of us. If you can’t wait, read Paddy Ladd’s book, Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood.) Anyway, it is undeniable that we have been quite clear about our wishes for a long time now and we expect that the next president will be a role model for us.

A very serious concern, however, is the process in which candidates were screened. Fact: Roz Rosen’s credentials are nearly impeccable and pretty darn impressive. Fact: She was fired by King Jordan, and the details regarding that incident are murky. Fact: Rosen applied. Fact: Rosen wasn’t invited to interview. Fact: Glenn Anderson meets all the qualifications on paper. Fact: Anderson was invited to interview. Fact: Anderson did not make the list of finalists. Fact: Bill Marshall was invited to interview and meets the qualifications, but is not an option any longer. Fact: Ron Stern does not have a doctorate, yet is in the final three. Fact: Jane Fernandes is in the final three in spite of a lot of anecdotal evidence showing that she may not possess the preferred qualification of being able to engage in open, honest dialogue. Fact: Out of 21 deaf individuals, these three are the finalists. With all these facts, the stink of suspicion is very difficult to ignore. My theory is that this process is much more political than it should be and two weaker candidates (on paper at least) were selected in order to pave the way for Fernandes to get the position without challenges. It is unconscionable that Rosen was not invited to interview, since she would have made it past the first round anywhere else. Standard procedure holds that only people who do not meet the minimum qualifications are screened out at that point. She meets the minimum qualifications.

With all these facts, is it any wonder the community is in an uproar? The problem, though, is that we are splintered and we are not united in what exactly we object to about this process. We are not even united in whether or not we should object. Some argue that we should let this play out. Others want to re-create DPN right this minute. While I would normally advocate letting events run their course, I fear that if we do that and the choice is the wrong one, the resulting anger and outcry would be more damaging than it is worth for our community. Protests and shutting the campus down are not options I espouse at this point either. But we should not sit silent. This decision is just too damn important.

What the Board of Trustees needs to do is simple. They need to say, “Gee, guys. We heard your concerns about the flaws in this process. We’re scrapping what we’ve done and we’re starting over.”
Steps they need to take once this has been done:
*Dismantle the PSC
*Establish criteria for selection of the new PSC, including mandatory recusal if a conflict of interest is discovered with any applicant
*Select a new PSC with all-new people onboard - ones that do not have biases for or against any applicant whenever possible
*Develop a quasi-transparent procedure with standardized rubrics and checklists, along with safeguards to ensure that confidentiality is not betrayed
I’m probably missing a couple of things, but you get the idea.

>>Plea to the Board: Board of Trustees, it is perfectly all right to back up. If you do not, the validity of your choice will forever be in question. No one I have talked to thinks that this selection process is fair and appropriate. Extrapolate that to what is happening nationwide. You are in huge danger of losing our trust, and you are risking hurting whomever you select, because his or her selection will not be on firm footing with the community. I have already contacted you with my concerns and I urge others to do the same.<<