Board of TRUSTees: It's More Than Just a Decision

With the impending Board of TRUSTees meeting lurking on the horizon, there's a whole lot more at stake than just a decision as to whether Jane stays or Jane goes.

The entire deaf community is going through a trying period of tension, conflict, and unrest. Regardless of which side you support, you have to tip your hat to the unity demonstrated by the FSSA and the persistence of the Gallaudet Administration in their refusal to back down.

But as this game of chicken is allowed to continue, a dark cloud grows bigger and bigger and casts a formidable pall over the entire deaf community. It's a horrible feeling that has opened too many wounds and has created too much divisiveness.

After one of my most recent blog entries I was actually contacted by a couple of Jane Fernandes supporters. We were able to have a civil and interesting dialogue where we agreed on two things:

1) That Board of Twinkies diatribe I went on the other day has effectively guaranteed I'll never get a job on Kendall Green for as long as I live

and

2) The current conflict has escalated to the point where the Board of TRUSTees must take action, and soon.

I keep emphasizing the TRUST in Board of TRUSTees because there is an alarming lack of trust these days. It's bothering me to the point where I want to share a story about a wonderful leader in the Philadelphia deaf community.

This man's name is Reverend Roger Pickering.

Note: Before I go on, let me emphasize that my opinions here are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Rev. Pickering or any organization he's affiliated with. I'm merely sharing the profound impact he's had on me and countless others.

Rev. Pickering has always been a great leader. I've been in attendance at some of his inspirational speeches. In fact, if you look at the home page of my website, the (And Then Some) at the top is a direct result of Rev. Pickering's influence. I was there the day he implored those of us working with deaf children to do the best we can... and then some. It was a great lift, a shot in the arm.

But as I've said before, it's always during a time of crisis when a leader's true character emerges. And there was indeed a time when I witnessed Rev. Pickering responding to a potential crisis. I'm not at liberty to share the details of what went on but what I can tell you is that three things happened:

First, a problem was brought to Rev. Pickering's attention. Second, there was some disagreement in the room as to whether or not this problem actually existed. Third, Rev. Pickering responded with the following words of wisdom that have stuck with me to this very day:

It doesn't matter if there is or isn't a problem. The very perception that there's a problem is a problem in itself. We must take action.

Action taken, problem solved. Is that leadership or what?

And now, coming back to the current situation at Gallaudet, we have one helluva perception. It's been allowed to fester for too long. It's tearing the deaf world apart.

Of course, there's a fine line between reality and perception. The reality of today's crisis is indeed quite daunting. The FSSA can reel off a list of specific reasons as to why they don't want Jane Fernandes as their next president. The Gallaudet Administration, in turn, can reel off its own list of reasons of why she deserves the job.

Never mind reason. Let's talk about perception for a moment. More specifically, let's talk about TRUST.

The public perception in the deaf community right now is that the presidency was handed to Jane Fernandes on a silver platter.

People will remind you how she was selected as provost without the standard procedure of a faculty vote. (In fact, speaking of voting and the faculty, you'll hear plenty about votes of no confidence).

Then there was I. King Jordan's slip of the tongue where he inadvertently introduced Presid... oops, Provost Jane Fernandes at his retirement speech. Whether it was just a slip or an indication of something further, it doesn't matter; it set off red flags everywhere. A sense of TRUST in the Gallaudet Administration was eroding.

No disrespect intended to the other two finalists in the top three, but a further sense of disTRUST emerged when powerhouse candidates such as Roz Rosen and Glenn Anderson did not make it to the final round. The perception was that the deck had been stacked so that no formidable opponents stood in the way of Jane Fernandes' selection.

The fact of the matter is, no matter how much we try to stick to the facts, the perception that corruption is at play simply keeps surfacing and resurfacing. At a recent Tent City gathering, one of the topics of discussion was the fear that perhaps Jane Fernandes is the only viable candidate for the presidency on the grounds that a newly elected president would discover a trail of financial and political mismanagement; therefore, we need Jane Fernandes around to "clean up the mess," so to speak. Hey, I'm not saying this is true -- I'm saying that this is one of many perceptions floating around these days. (True or not, it does give the Board of TRUSTees an indication that whatever they decide to do, they must make sure that there's more transparency during future selection processes in order to maintain the TRUST of the deaf community.)

But it goes way beyond that. Jane Fernandes' perception of the protesters is not a good one. She has used words such as anarchy and terrorists when describing the very community she wants to lead. From a reciprocal standpoint, the students' and other members of the FSSA's perception of Jane Fernandes is just as bad; they have used words such as autocratic, divisive, and intimidating.

The list of not-so-nice words is actually much longer than the examples given above. I don't have the space to list them all. Regardless, look at the perception and the words of both sides and ask yourselves: is this a campus community and an administration that can peacefully coexist for the next year, and beyond?

The core of the matter is, right now there is no TRUST between the two sides. It's reached the point where I no longer care who's right or wrong. I care about the well-being, the spirit, and the integrity of the deaf community.

Therefore I implore the Board of TRUSTees to do what is best for Gallaudet University... and restore a sense of TRUST.

Thank you for listening.