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Deaf President Now
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Deaf President Now

By Michael Hutchinson

Why did Deaf and Hard of Hearing people protest in March of 1998 against the board of trustees at Gallaudet University to get a Deaf president? (NAD, 2014)

In 1817, the America School for the Deaf in Hartford, Connecticut was established by Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Lauren Marie Clerc. (Gallaudet University, 2013) Later, Thomas Gallaudet's son, Edward Miner Gallaudet founded a school for Deaf children in Washington D.C in 1857. (Gallaudet University, 2013) Seven years later, he added a collegiate division, and made the only university in the world for Deaf and hard of hearing students. (Gallaudet University, 2013)

However, in 1864, Edward Miner Gallaudet and Alexander Graham Bell had different opinions regarding the two methods of communication for Deaf students. (Gallaudet University, 2013) "Bell and other hearing people thought they knew what was best for the Deaf, and strongly advanced the suppression of sign language usage inside and outside the classroom." On other hand, Edward Gallaudet was conflicted about the issue but very powerfully supported the continued use of sign language at the college.  In Milan, Italy in 1880, an international meeting of educators of Deaf children banned the use of sign language in teaching of the Deaf. (Gallaudet University, 2013) In 1919, the oral method of instruction was used for most Deaf children. Deaf children and their teachers had little to no exposure to Deaf role models. In the Deaf Community: Gallaudet alumni, faculty, staff and students, who was president of the university was really important. (Gallaudet University, 2013)

The first four Gallaudet presidents' background was in educating the Deaf, and one even had a Deaf wife. Edward Miner Gallaudet served as the first president for 46 years, from 1864 until he retired in 1910. His father, Thomas Gallaudet, with the help of Laurent Clerc, founded the first school for the Deaf in the U.S. The next president, Dr. Percival Hall, spent his Christmas vacation on Kendall Green with his Harvard roommate and became interested in the education of the Deaf. He taught at New York School for the Deaf for two years then later became secretary to president Edward Miner Gallaudet for a short time.  Dr. Hall became the second president of Gallaudet where he remained until his retirement in 1945. Also he married his Deaf wife Ethel Taylor. (Gallaudet University, 2013)

Before he became president in 1925, Dr. Leonardo M. Elstad was the assistant principal of Wright Oral School in New York and also superintendent of Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf in Faribault. He became the third president of Gallaudet College in 1945. (Gallaudet College, 2011) Next, Edward C. Merrill Jr. was a special assistant to President Leonard M. Elstad, from January 15 until July 1, 1969. Later, Dr. Merrill Jr. became the fourth President and also an advocate for Deaf people. He was recognized as a national and international leader in the education for Deaf and hard of hearing people. He was one of the only hearing individuals worldwide holding honorary membership in the World Federation of the Deaf. The Educational Extension Center, the National Center for Law and the Deaf, and the International Center for Deafness were all established by Dr. Merrill Jr. He had written many articles on the education of the Deaf. (Gallaudet College, 2011)

The last two Gallaudet presidents did not have a background in educating the Deaf. Dr. W. Lloyd Johns was the fifth president of Gallaudet University from October 1, 1983 until January 18, 1983. "He was a progressive educator who followed principles of shared governance and democratic accountability having sought the participation of the National Association for the Deaf and Gallaudet's alumni." (Wikipedia, 2013) Dr. W. Lloyd Johns was the fifth president of Gallaudet University from October 1, 1983 until January 18, 1983. Dr. Jerry C. Lee was the sixth president of Gallaudet University. He served as Vice President for the Administration at Commercial Credit Industrial Corporation from 1965 to 1977. From 1971 to 1977, Dr. Lee, "Served as the Director of General for Gallaudet, and was promoted to Assistant Vice President for Business Affairs in 1978." (Gallaudet College, 2013) Later, he got promoted again to be Vice President for the Administration and Business in 1982. "When Jerry Lee became president of Gallaudet University in 1983, he did so with the understanding that he would serve in that capacity for a limited period of time." (Gallaudet University, 2013)

In the Deaf Community: Gallaudet alumni faculty, staff, and students, who was president of university was really important. By 1988, no one at Gallaudet doubted the ability of Deaf people to do what they wanted to do. The three candidates for president of Gallaudet were Dr. Harvey Corson and Dr. I Jordan, both Deaf men, and Dr. Elizabeth Zinser a hearing woman. Dr Harvey Corson was the superintendent of the Louisiana School for the Deaf. Dr. I. King Jordan was currently the dean of the University's college of Art and Science. Dr. Elisabeth Zinser was assistant chancellor of the University of North Carolina in Greensboro. The Gallaudet board decided to pick Dr.Zinser to become the seventh president.

On March 1, 1988, the fully organized rally persuaded many Deaf students to join the Deaf President Now movement. The rally was first time that Deaf students learned the protest was against a hearing president, Dr.Zinser and for the struggle to get first Deaf president. On March 1, 1988, Deaf leaders gave speeches at a traveling rally: football field, elementary school, largest class room in the building, president's house and statue of the first president of Gallaudet University. On Saturday and Sunday March 5th and 6th, Zinser, Jordan, Corson, and the board met at a hotel downtown for interviews. During the next four days, TV reporters and crews showed up at the Deaf student's camp on the lawn of the president's house. The president of the student body government, Greg Hilbok said that he "Wrote Zinser a letter asking her to withdraw her candidacy." (Gallaudet University, 2013)

Day One Sunday March 6; The Board of Trustees selected Dr. Zinser as hearing president. "So although the United States believed enough in Deaf people' abilities to establishes Gallaudet University in 1864, prejudices and discrimination against Deaf and hard of hearing people persisted." (Gallaudet University, 2013) On campus, the students were outraged when they learned that Dr. Zinser was chosen. The Deaf students went to the Mayflower Hotel and demanded a meeting with the board. Students felt that Spilman and the board were out of contact with the Deaf. Deaf students left hotel and went to White House, then walked to the Capital building, and finally back to Gallaudet University. The students made a list of four demands: Dr. Zinser must resign and a Deaf president must be selected, Jane Spilman must step down as chairperson of the Board of Trustees, Deaf people must constitute a 51% majority on the Board, and no reprisals against any student or employee involved in the protest.

Day Two, Monday March 7: Deaf students and other protesters worked together through night and blocked all entrances of Gallaudet University allowing only staff and faculty to enter. Deaf representatives, faculty, and staff had meeting with the board that lasted three hours, at the conclusion of the meeting Spilman told the group the four demands were rejected. A Deaf teacher shared support for the students and stepped in front of Spilman to tell that the board did not accept the students' demands.

Day Three, Tuesday March 8: the next morning, Gallaudet University reopened and allowed people to enter but the Deaf students boycotted class and attended rallies, and speeches instead. The students protest continued until evening and the national news reported on the situation. The four Deaf leaders were Bridgetta Bourne, Jerry Covell, Greg Hilbok, and Tim Rarus.

Day Four, Wednesday March 9: early that morning, there was a meeting of a small group from Gallaudet University and two Congressmen, David Bonior of Michigan and Steven Gunderson of Wisconsin, both members from Gallaudet University Board. Dr. Zinser arrived at Washington D.C, agreeing to began her job as president early, feeling that would help to bring the protest to end. Dr. Zinser and Jordan went to the National Press club where Spilman had just begun a press conference. Here Jordan publicly announced his support of Zinser. "The Faculty of the University and pre-college along with the staff people, met to decide whether or not that supported this now student led protest." (Gallaudet University, 2013) "The Congressman urged Zinser to resign." (Gallaudet University, 2013) Hlibok, Zinser, and Deaf actress, Marlee Matlin were on the national news.

Day five, Thursday March 10, "Greg Hlibok appeared on ABC's Good Morning America." (Gallaudet University, 2013) Many groups showed support for the rally such as: students from the National Technical Institute of the Deaf, other schools for the Deaf and the American Postal Workers Union. Zinser, Spilman, and some members of the Board held a press conference downtown and the students vowed to stay on campus rather than leave for spring break, and planned to continue the protest until all demands were met.

Day 6, Friday March 11, "As the news broke about Zinser's resignation, there was a decidedly festive atmosphere on campus." (Gallaudet University, 2013) A portion of the first demanded that Zinser resign and a Deaf president be named in her place had been a success. Students began wearing the buttons with "3 " on them, signifying that there were only 3 demands to go. At noon, there was a march to the Capital Building. A day of celebration and many from local and national Deaf communities participated. At the Capital, the crowd was treated to speeches by a variety of people, including Congressman, Steven Gunderson. "At 7 p.m. there was another rally in the Field House." (Gallaudet University, 2013) Greg Hlibok was named "Person of the Week" by ABC News. (Gallaudet University, 2013)

Day 7, Saturday March 12: "Saturday was day of rest." "The weather was balmy for the middle of March and many on campus attended afternoon barbecues and an all day arts festival." (Gallaudet University, 2013)

Day 8, Sunday March 13:  "Board of Trustees members who had gone home after the announcement of Zinser's selection as president the week before returned to Washington for an emergency meeting to discuss what to do next." (Gallaudet University, 2013) In the evening, Phil Bravin and Jane Spilman hosted their last press conference to state that: Spilman had resigned, Bravin was named the next chair of the Board of the Trustees, a taskforce would be set up to determine the best way to achieve a 51% Deaf majority on the Board, no reprisals, and Dr. I. King Jordan was named eighth president and became the first Deaf president of Gallaudet University. "It was all over, in eight emotional, action- packed days it was over." (Gallaudet University, 2013)

From the beginning:  Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Laurent Marie Clerc had set up the first school for the Deaf. Thomas Gallaudet's son, Thomas Miner Gallaudet followed in his father's steps of Deaf education and set up Gallaudet School in Washington D.C. The first six presidents were Edward Miner Gallaudet, Dr. Percival Hall, Dr. Leonardo M. Elstad, Edward C. Merrill Jr., Dr. W. Lloyd Johns, and Dr. Jerry C. Lee in the Gallaudet for several years. But in 1998, the School Board chose Dr. Zinser, a hearing president which caused the Deaf student's protest began. Eight days later, Zinser, Spilman, and some hearing board members withdrew then Dr. Jordan became a first Deaf president and 51% of Deaf boards were include. All Deaf students finally stop protesting then they went back at Gallaudet University happy. From this point forward, all Gallaudet Presidents will likely be Deaf.

Work Citied:

"Deaf President Now." Gallaudet University. National Deaf Education Center, n.d. Wed.23 March 2014. <http:www.gallaudet/dpn_home.html>

"25th Anniversary of Deaf President Now." National Association of the Deaf (NAD). Lizzie, n.d. Wed.23 March 2014. <

"Deaf President Now." Gallaudet University. National Deaf Education Center, n.d. Wed.23 March 2014 <>

"Gallaudet University Library Deaf Collection and Archives." Gallaudet University. National Deaf Education Center, n.d. Wed.23 March 2014. <>,

"Do You Remember? ~ Dr. Leonard M. Elstad ~ 3rd President of Gallaudet College." Gallaudet College, n.d. Wed.23 March 2014. <>

"W.Lloyd Johns." Wikipedia, n.d Wed 24 March 2104. <>

Date Submitted: 4/24/2014

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