ASL University | Bookstore | Catalog | Dictionary | Lessons | Resources | Syllabi | Library

Fernandes, Jane:

Lauri Brocchini
May 6, 2007

The (Mis)firing of Jane K. Fernandes?

I grew up not far from the California School for the Deaf in Berkeley, in fact my mother worked there. I remember going to visit her at work and feeling oddly left out, as if I had traveled to a foreign land. The deaf kids would grab my mother and start waving their hands all over the place, like in a game of charades.

King Jordan, the first elected deaf president of Gallaudet University announced his retirement and the election Jane K. Fernandes as the new president of the university. Many students and faculty strongly protested Jane K. Fernandes appointment and the board of trustees bowed to them by dismissing her. Why? Why were they so opposed to Jane K. Fernandes?

Rumors flourished that Jane K. Fernandes couldn't sign and needed an interpreter to communicate with the deaf. During an interview with Jordan King, Talk of the Nation's Neal Conan asked him whether it was true or not. Jordan replied:

"I can tell you for sure that Dr. Fernandes never used a sign language interpreter. See, the blogs and the postings on the Web sites all over the place talked about the fact that she didn't learn to sign until she was 23 years old, and that's true. But she became a very fluent signer, a very capable signer, and a very strong advocate for sign language and American Sign Language specifically.

Oh, the whole issue about Gallaudet, why Gallaudet exists and why Gallaudet is so important is communication access. At Gallaudet, everybody signs.

At Gallaudet, all communication is visual. Everything that's communicated is communicated in the air. So to have someone who's a leader who isn't able to sign would not be a very positive thing. But, as I said, Dr. Fernandes is a very fluent signer." (Talk of the Nation, 2006)

A deaf child from deaf has a different outlook then a deaf child with a cochlear implant born to hearing parents would or someone who went deaf after having oral language. The deaf community is like any other group some attribute defines class status, for the deaf its what "type" of deaf are you?

At Gallaudet, students are categorized according to their "type" of deafness--"capital D" deaf come from deaf signing families and went to deaf high schools, and "little d" deaf, who may be the only deaf person in their family, grew up speaking and lip reading, and went to mainstream schools. (Maura Judkis, 2006)

Jane K. Fernandes wanted Gallaudet and the deaf community to embrace "all kinds of deaf people". Some felt the inclusion of the mainstreamed, lip reading, and technologically enhanced deaf would weaken or displace ASL, which is at the core of deaf culture. Jane K. Fernandes stood for a type of change that would have made ASL one of many acceptable ways of communicating at Gallaudet. Many deaf aren't ready for that leap.

Wendy Payne- Craig, a language arts teacher at WPSD who hosted the Plum rally, said she does not object to deaf children using implants. Technology has changed her school's culture and it will change Gallaudet's, but ASL "is so associated with deaf culture" and so enriches deaf people's lives that she cannot imagine it dissipating as a key means of communication. (Gabrielle Banks, 2006)

I asked several deaf friends about the situation, and after researching for this paper I wasn't surprised by their comments - most of those born deaf into deaf families defended the protests and the firing of Jane K. Fernandez. While many of the hard of hearing or not born deaf would like to see changes. Students and faculty disliked and mistrusted Jane K. Fernandez (poor leadership style, unsympathetic to students' needs or selected in a biased manner), but at the heart of the matter ASL seemed to be the main issue.


Banks, Gabrielle. (2006, Nov. 7). Gallaudet Protest Highlights Changing reality of Deaf Culture. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 6, Apr. 2007:

Judkis, Maura. (2006, Fall). Not Deaf Enough. Newsweek Magazine. Retrieved 9, Apr. 2007:

Talk of the Nation.(2006, Nov. 29). Interview with King Jordan, former President of Gallaudet University. National Public Radio. Retrieved 9, Apr. 2007:



Want to help support ASL University?  It's easy DONATE (Thanks!)
(You don't need a PayPal account. Just look for the credit card logos and click continue.)

Another way to help is to buy something from the ASLU "Bookstore."

Want even more ASL resources?  Visit the "ASL Training Center!"  (Subscription Extension of ASLU)   CHECK IT OUT >

Bandwidth slow?  Check out "" (a free mirror of less traffic, fast access)   VISIT >