Phi Beta Cons

More Gallaudet and Rule by Law

Anthony calls the shutting down of Gallaudet University by students demanding that its next president sanction the exclusive use of sign language, at the university and in deaf culture, “strange.” Indeed, this latest pitched battle between campus members favoring the primacy of sign language, and those receptive to the use of voice and sign language simultaneously, is puzzling to outsiders.


But whatever the origins and merits of this dispute, it should not be allowed to obscure the fact that this campus takeover by students, allegedly at the instigation of faculty members, constitutes (in the words of the departing president I. King Jordan) “illegal and unlawful behavior.”


The president designate, Jane K. Fernandes, accused by the “sign only” faction of not sufficiently valuing sign language, seems to have been duly vetted and appointed by Gallaudet’s governing board


Former president Jordan is right to have forewarned students that they could be faced with arrest and suspension. The board is right to declare that its decision to hire Fernandes was “fair and final” and to forewarn that it will not reopen the search for a new president. And students and faculty who support Fernandes’s appointment are right in objecting that the protesters are depriving their fellow students of an education.


Due process and rule by law must carry the day. The protesters must desist and, if discussion fails, be forcibly stopped from (as Fernandes says) “holding the campus hostage.” In addition, if punishment is meted out to protesting students, it should be determined if and which faculty members instigated this latest bout of campus anarchy – and they too should face penalties. Professors should not have immunity when they use students as proxies in campus takeovers or any other unlawful actions.


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