The 2006 Protest at Gallaudet University: Reflections and Explanations
Christiansen, John B., Sign Language Studies
The protest of 2006 at Gallaudet University began in May, was suspended during the summer, and resumed in October. This emotionally charged series of events is probably impossible to analyze or explain objectively, and in this account I do not attempt to do so. Instead, I offer some personal observations about what happened and why.
At the beginning of the fall semester of 2005, Gallaudet's president, I. King Jordan, announced that he would be retiring at the end of 2006. 1 A few weeks after Jordan informed the campus community of his intentions, the board of trustees announced that it would be forming a search committee to lead the effort to find a new president for Gallaudet. There were to be four faculty representatives on this seventeen-member committee, and several of my colleagues urged me to become a part of the group. After mulling over the matter for a few days, I decided that, if selected, I would serve. Litde did I realize what was in store for me - or for the university, for that matter.
Since quite a few other people on the faculty were also interested in serving, the faculty committee responsible for elections set up a special election in October so that eight faculty members could be recommended to the board for service on the conrmittee. The faculty did not directly elect the faculty representatives; rather, eight names were submitted to the board, and the board, seeking diversity on the search committee, selected four of them. As it happened, my name was included among those that the faculty officers sent to the board.
At the time, I was pretty sure I would not be chosen. As a white person, a male, and a nonnative user of American Sign Language (ASL), I thought the board would probably pick others for the committee. I did not think the fact that I had a cochlear implant would work in my favor, either. However, for whatever reason, the board selected me as one of the four faculty representatives, and I was excited about becoming involved in what would almost certainly be my last experience on a search committee at Gallaudet. I had served on several such committees previously, including two searches for deans, and thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. As they say, I didn't know the half of it.
The vast majority of the search committee members who were introduced to the campus in early November were deaf or hard of hearing, and many were people of color. The group included two representatives from the professional staff, two alumni, one undergraduate student, one graduate student, six board of trustees members, a representative from the university's precollege programs (the Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center), and four faculty.
The committee did not really get going until early in 2006, but we did select a consulting firm in the fall to assist us in the search process. The firm we selected was Academic Search, Inc., a Washington, D. C, organization with extensive experience in college and university presidential searches. In addition to selecting the consultant, the committee sponsored an open forum in the fall to solicit input from the campus community, and the consultants themselves met with various university constituencies. Clearly, people both on and off campus were excited about the process getting under way, and many groups, including students, staff, faculty, and alumni both wanted and expected to have significant input into the search.
Looking back, I believe it is unfortunate that the committee got off to a rather slow start in the fall of 2005. I think we might have been able to develop a formal announcement (the "position profile") inviting "applications and nominations for the position of president" more quickly than we did, and perhaps we could have started screening applicants somewhat earlier as well. Unfortunately, given the nature of the academic calendar, as well as logistical problems in getting everyone on the search committee to campus (some board of trustees and alumni members lived far from Washington), it was difficult to get much done during December and January. …