WASHINGTON -- The Gallaudet University board of trustees Sunday named the 124-year-old school's first deaf president and accepted the resignation of the board chairwoman, bowing to demands from student protesters who shut down the school for a week.
The board, which previously had agreed to amnesty for all protesters, also agreed Sunday to appoint a task force to study the students' fourth and final demand -- that a majority of the trustees be hearing impaired.
The board named as president I. King Jordan, 44, the dean of the school's College of Arts and Sciences and a graduate of Gallaudet, the nation's only liberal arts college for the hearing impaired.
Jordan, a popular figure among students, was one of three finalists before North Carolina educator Elisabeth Zinser was named president March 6, an action that triggered student protests that focused nationwide attention on the plight of the deaf and prompted Zinser's resignation Thursday night.
'In this week, we can truly say that we, together and united, have overcome our own reluctance to stand for our rights and our full representation,' Jordan told scores of students at the hotel where the trustees had met.
'The world has watched the deaf community come of age. We will no longer accept limits on what we can achieve,' he said. 'I must give the highest of praise to the students of Gallaudet for showing us all exactly how, even now, one can seize an idea with such force of argument that it becomes a reality.'
Jane Bassett Spilman also resigned Sunday as chairman of the board, which named as her replacement, Philip Bravin, a deaf board board member whose 19-year-old deaf son is a Gallaudet freshman. The students, who had four demands, hailed the appointment of Bravin as a fifth - surprising -- victory.
Spilman said she stepped down willingly.
'In the minds of some, I have become an obstacle to the future of the university,' she said. 'And because I care very deeply about Gallaudet's future, I am removing the obstacle.
'We wanted a deaf president,' she said. 'In the end, the best choice was a hearing candidate (Zinser), but there was no deliberate deception in either our methods or choices.'
The board said Sunday it would appoint a task force made up mostly of hearing-impaired trustees to study the proposal for a majority of hearing-impaired trustees as well as the overall direction for the university.
At the Gallaudet campus, students -- who last week burned in effigy Zinser and Spilman and barricaded campus entrances -- learned of the decision nearly 30 minutes before it was announced officially, and began hugging one another, shouting and jumping up and down. Tears welled in the eyes of many.
'The board did what we asked,' said Nancy Connors, a media coordinator for the Deaf President Now Council, the group that led the protests.
'We're elated with the news. The council will begin a dialogue with the new chairman, Phil Bravin, in a meeting tomorrow,' she said. 'And we're celebrating tonight.'
The student body president, Greg Hlibok, told of the decision by Bravin, said he was 'stunned.'
'I just couldn't believe it,' he said. 'Now we have respect; we have everything. It's just the beginning for all of us.'
Jerry Covell, a protest leader, addressed 200 to 300 celebrating students.
'We ask you to hug each other because we are united and we will never be divided,' Covell said. 'This will have a big influence on you. We will be together for the rest of our lives.'
Covell said the next step for the students might be a national movement.
'Now, we've finished the problem on campus but we have not solved the larger problem in America,' he said. 'I'm now mulling about starting a national movement for the deaf. What we did here is the first step. We need to duplicate this because our voices are never heard.'
Patti Moore, coordinator of Gallaudet's National Adult and Continuing Education program said: 'Imagine the ripple effect it will have over the world. It really means a lot to me because it means I will really have more opportunities. I felt that I had to be better just to be just as good.'
Jeff Bravin, Philip Bravin's son, called Sunday's events a victory, but added it will be 'a complete victory' only if the board agrees to appoint a deaf majority to theboard.
'I feel great and wish them the best luck,' Jeff Bravin said of the board. 'The students are very happy.'