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Turmoil Accompanies Appointment at University for the Deaf

There's been quite an uproar over the choice for a new president at Gallaudet University, America's pre-eminent college for the deaf.

Jane Fernandes's critics take issue with her leadership style in a lesser job on the Washington, D.C., campus. But Gallaudet's retiring president, King Jordan, who supports Ms. Fernandes, says the real reason many students and two-thirds of the faculty disapprove of her is that -- even though she was born, and is still, profoundly deaf -- she is considered "not deaf enough."

Ms. Fernandes's father, who could hear, and mother, who could not, taught young Jane to read lips and to speak. She did not learn American Sign Language until she was 23. Thus, to deaf activists, she was conceding deafness as a handicap by acting like those who can hear. Not only that, she went to mainstream schools with hearing students, did not attend Gallaudet, and married a man who can hear.

Alan Hurwitz, who also has been deaf from birth, is dean of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, a college in Rochester, N.Y., that emphasizes math and sciences. He says the furor at Gallaudet reflects the shockwaves that have hit the deaf community in a nation where 85 percent of deaf youngsters now go to school with those who hear, and where cochlear implants are bringing the world of sound to many who were deaf. "Just as some historically black colleges are struggling with questions about what it means to be black in today's diverse society," Dean Hurwitz told VOA, "strong views are being expressed about who should be the face of Gallaudet University."

For purists in the deaf culture, that face must belong to someone born deaf to deaf parents who speaks fluently in American Sign Language, marries another deaf person, and produces deaf children.

In other words, deaf enough.