Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Healing Gallaudet: Months after Student Protests Resulted in the Ouster of Its President-Elect, Gallaudet University Is Looking to Turn the Page under Interim President Robert Davila

Magazine article Diverse Issues in Higher Education

Healing Gallaudet: Months after Student Protests Resulted in the Ouster of Its President-Elect, Gallaudet University Is Looking to Turn the Page under Interim President Robert Davila

Article excerpt

Dr. Robert R. Davila became interim president of Gallaudet University on Jan. 1, after a prolonged campus protest resulted in the removal of president-designate Dr. Jane K. Fernandes (see Diverse, Nov. 16, 2006).

Davila, the son of Mexican parents, lost his hearing at age eight after contracting spinal meningitis. He is a 1953 alumnus of Gallaudet and was a faculty member and administrator there. He has also served as vice president of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf and has been assistant secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services in the U.S. Department of Education. Davila, who holds a doctorate in educational technology from Syracuse University, came out of retirement to accept the two-year interim appointment at Gallaudet. Davila recently spoke with Diverse about healing the fractured campus and improving its financial standing and low graduation rates.

DI: You have many issues to deal with as the interim president. Can you tell us about your overall plans?

RD: I felt one of the first priorities for anyone coming here would be to heal the university.

DI: What have you done to accomplish that?

RD: I have established very regular and consistent communication. Every week, I've done a video as well as a written message to the community. I have had ongoing communication with the faculty senate. I know that one of the issues the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools identified was a need to strengthen shared governance. I am comfortable with that.

DI: Another major issue facing you, also from the accrediting agency Middle States, is the need to strengthen academics. How are you going to address the low graduation rate?

RD: In 1988, there was a commission on the education of the deaf appointed by Congress. One of the most important observations they made is that seven of every 10 four-year college students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing do not get their degrees. That survey did not include Gallaudet or the National Technical Institute for the Deaf. For children who are born deaf, acquiring competence in a spoken language or written language is a lifelong effort. I had the benefit of being able to hear when I was a little boy. I didn't know English, I knew Spanish, but as an adult, I had internalized a language, and because of that I was able to pick up a second and third language. But children who are born deaf struggle all their lives. And in college, almost everything is a test of reading.

DI: Gallaudet is also having financial problems. …

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