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Gallaudet students plan next series of protests

By
ANTHONY O. MILLER

WASHINGTON -- Hearing-impaired students at Gallaudet University offered Saturday to provide a list of 'highly qualified' mediators to help resolve their differences with the school's administration that closed the facility for the last week.

No names of potential mediators were disclosed.

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The students are demanding the appointment of a deaf president to run the nation's only liberal arts college for the deaf. Student protests led to the resignation Thursday of the newly appointed president, Elisabeth Zinser, a normal-hearing administrator who has no knowledge of sign language.

The school's board of trustees had favored Zinser 10-4 over two hearing-impaired candidates.

The students said in a statement issued Saturday night their support can be gained only by granting four demands they issued Friday.

Those demands included the appointment of a deaf president -- the first in the university's history -- and the appointment of a deaf majority on the 20-member board of trustees.

But at the same time, the statement from the Deaf President Now Council appeared to offer an olive branch to the board, which is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. Sunday.

'The Deaf President Now Council recognizes the need to establish an immediate dialogue with the members of the board of trustees,' the statement said. 'We understand that the board will be meeting beginning on Sunday, March 13. Some of the topics that will be discussed during the board meeting will concern issues raised by the students of Gallaudet University.

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'Taking into account that unilateral decisions made by the board which deviate from the four demands as stated by the council will not have the support of the students, it is imperative that we set into place a mechanism to facilitate dialogue on how these demands can be implemented,' the statement said.

'We will provide the board a list of highly qualified mediators as a way to resolve the present siuation at Gallaudet University. We welcome any suggestions from the board on how this dialogue may take place.'

Earlier Saturday, hearing-impaired students and their advocates gathered at the university in spring sunshine for 'a day of sharing' while their leaders drafted strategies for a second, intense set of protests.

The students, though joyous over their non-violent battle to remove Zinser from the presidency, said only a fraction of their four demands have been met and vowed to continue their protest through their spring break, which began Saturday, until they get what they want.

'The students have made it loud and clear that they are not going to return to classes until all of the demands are met,' said James Tucker, an English professor, 1981 Gallaudet graduate and member of the Deaf President Now Council which is organizing the protests.

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'The ball is in (the trustees') court,' Tucker said. The council met Saturday to plan strategy for the week, but did not reveal the tactics they hope to employ.

Along with the demand for a deaf president, the students want Board of Trustees Chairwoman Jane Bassett Spilman to resign, a deaf majority on the 20-member board and amnesty for student protesters.

Scores of students, faculty and well-wishers gathered at the campus Saturday for an art festival and a picnic that featured 'Board-busting burgers' and 'Spilman dogs' and the symbolic devouring of one sandwich for every board of trustees member.

'This, really, is a day of sharing,' said Jackie Kinner, a deaf Washington area resident who has been helping students with their protest, adding that they are preparing for an even more intense series of protests as the board begins its selection process Sunday for Zinser's replacement.

'Everyone intends to see this through,' she said. 'We are very unified. There is a common feeling among us. We are hearing from people from all over the nation, the world.'

Among the supporters Saturday was Yerker Andersson, president of the World Federation of the Deaf, an international association for the hearing impaired whose 11 board directors all are deaf.

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'Spilman should resign because she never learned sign language and she never learned to interact with the deaf community,' Andersson said. 'I think the United States government can afford to have a majority of deaf people on the board because we accept pluralism.'

Spilman has said she will not step down unless other board members ask her to do so, and she refused to say whether only deaf people would be considered for the presidency.

Zinser was to return to Greensboro, N.C., Saturday night where she planned to resume her position as vice chancellor of academic affairs at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

Zinser's administrative assistant, Nora Robbins, who said her colleagues were 'thrilled' over Zinser's return, said her boss never officially resigned from her position because she had planned to begin work at Gallaudet this summer.

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