WASHINGTON, DC—On Sunday, in the face of unlawful protests, the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees rescinded its appointment of Jane K. Fernandes as president. This mirrored the situation in 1988, when protests convinced the board to abandon its appointment of Elisabeth Zinser.
In response, Anne D. Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, issued the following statement:
“The Gallaudet board undertook an inclusive search and selected the candidate it believed most capable of leading the institution forward. But rather than communicating its vision for the university and standing behind its selection, it then allowed itself—in the intervening months—to be whipsawed by various constituencies with a variety of agendas. Ultimately, the board allowed the institution to be governed by the heckler’s veto.
“Gallaudet’s governance has now proven dysfunctional not once—but twice. It’s imperative that the board take time to learn from this pathetic episode, and reestablish credibility in and outside the institution—most particularly with Congress, which appropriates 70 percent of Gallaudet’s budget. The board needs to remember that it is in charge, not the loudest students or faculty.
“Gallaudet is in need of a strong leader, but few would willingly subject themselves to a process where the board cuts and runs. By surrendering—yet again—their legal and fiduciary obligation to select the university president, the Gallaudet trustees have done their institution a tremendous disservice.
“Higher education is currently faced with substantial challenges generally—and Gallaudet is no exception. Going forward, the Gallaudet board must cast a wide net to identify innovative leaders who are not afraid to question the status quo. It must not confuse the value of shared governance—input of faculty, and sometimes students, on issues affecting academic life—with its own ultimate authority and accountability.”
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni is a nonpartisan, nonprofit, national organization dedicated to academic freedom, academic quality, and accountability. ACTA has a network of trustees and alumni around the country and has issued numerous reports on higher education, including How Many Ward Churchills?, Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action, The Hollow Core, and Losing America’s Memory: Historical Illiteracy in the 21st Century.