Sunday, November 05, 2006

What Now, Gallaudet (part II)?

Gallaudet protestsYesterday, I started blogging on what happened to the president-elect of Gallaudet. Here’s why I think that the trustees ended up having to start over to find the next president of Gallaudet. The “governance” in shared governance isn’t really “shared” at all, because the responsibility for decisions doesn’t flow in both directions. (For some of my thoughts about shared governance, see, e.g., Eating Our Cake and Having It, Too: Why Real Change Is So Difficult in Law Schools, and Not Quite "Them," Not Quite "Us": Why It's Difficult for Former Deans to Go Home Again.) No tenured faculty member gets fired for enacting a questionable curricular reform or for proposing an admissions policy that doesn’t work. The buck, in essence, never stops at the faculty’s door.

The power at most universities, then, lies in veto power, not implementation power. And the protests at Gallaudet (and, earlier, at Harvard, when Larry Summers was president) were veto-power protests. Those who were responsible for Dr. Fernandes’s pre-presidential rejection have no direct responsibility for finding her successor. If the next presidential search fails because of the protests, none of the protesters will lose his job, or be demoted, or have to run a university in the interim.

The reason that the “real world” doesn’t understand university governance is that the “real world” has (for better or worse) repercussions for actions. The workers are more likely to feel immediate repercussions, with management’s repercussions coming later, if at all, but that subject is for another day and another blog.

Imagine a company run entirely by its workers—not by representatives of the workers, but by all of the workers themselves. Imagine that, in this company, committees study each issue, make recommendations, present those recommendations to the workers as a whole, and (sometimes) watch their recommendations fail because a few of the workers don’t trust the committee’s work or just choose to go in a different direction. Maybe some of those who are unhappy will ask the company’s customers or vendors to weigh in on some issues.

In such a company, every decision of the company’s management is fodder for criticism, both by those who have some understanding of the complex issues underlying the decision and by those who don’t. Some of those criticisms will be fair and wise (after all, humans make mistakes), and some won’t. And even if the criticisms of decisions are unfair, and public, and highly disruptive, the governance of that company assures that no one can lose his job for speaking out. Sounds a bit like power without responsibility, doesn’t it?

When the faculty and administration of a university “play fair,” respecting each other’s knowledge and understanding that all hard issues have at least two sides, then the practice of shared governance can come close to the theory underlying it. The good will and honest intentions of the faculty and administration should result in better decision-making. But when one side demonizes the other—or worse yet, when the faculty or administration drags students, alumni, or outsiders into the fray—then shared governance collapses, and no one wins.

What now, Gallaudet? You have a much larger problem at hand than choosing a next president. Now you have to decide how your community will handle the discussion of controversial decisions in the future. Silence the critics, and you lose the spirit of free inquiry that is the indispensable soul of higher education. The critics undoubtedly had good points to make about the presidential hiring process. But the preemptory protest got out of hand by preventing Dr. Fernandes from being able to learn or grow into her new role as president. By tolerating such tactics, Gallaudet, what are you teaching your current and future students about how educated people should behave?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The concept of Shared Governance to the students and alumni who participated in the protest is that, as stakeholders, they have an equal vote as the Board of Trustees and the faculty in running the university. They are being taught the concept and practice of mob rule. A Washington Post editorial aptly calls them hooligans.

11/06/2006 12:30 AM  
Blogger Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues said...

You can disregard that previous comment, which was probably made by King Jordan or Paul Kelly as part of their propaganda campaign to attempt to avoid being investigated by Congress.

Please, I beg you to do more research and not simply shoot off things that pop in your head.

Do you honestly think that college students would risk their lives in hunger strikes and honorable actions of civil disobedience if the protest were not about very, very serious issues.

It astonishes me that people don't see that. This is very serious, serious business. King Jordan and Jane Ferandes were in the process of *destroying* Gallaudet. The protesters saved it.

11/06/2006 2:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I don't think of the protesters as hooligans, and I think that there's a place for the voice of those who are upset by the direction that a university (or college) is taking. I don't believe that their voices should be ignored. On the other hand, public protests can often be co-opted by people with many different reasons for sharing in the protests (anyone watch CITIZEN RUTH lately?) and are a bit like using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut: the sledgehammer may work, but the walnut usually isn't the better for its use.

I know at least one of the Gallaudet trustees, and that person is extremely honorable. The trustees chose Dr. Fernandes, and my beef is with the timing of the protests: she wasn't even given a chance. Yes, she's been a provost, and she's probably made enemies. But she was chosen as a president, and I wonder why she wasn't given a decent time to prove herself in that role, one way or another.

Obviously, this issue is one for which goodhearted people can have genuine differences. But if I were Gallaudet, I would worry about the likelihood that other presidential candidates will be reluctant to come to a place of such passionate conflict.

11/06/2006 8:27 AM  
Blogger SpeakUpICantHearYou said...

Don't be shy, Brian. Tell the nice people about the faculty demands to declare ASL the official language, to require English materials to be translated to ASL (so that video replaces textbooks and other such oppressive English materials), to disallow entrollment of any student who is not native/fluent/ASL/CulturallyDeaf. Because reasonable accommodation shouldn't apply on campus. It's going to be kind of like Vatican City that way!

11/06/2006 9:04 PM  
Blogger Gallaudet Protest Legal Issues said...

You're just another coward "speakup" who creates a fake name just to post anonymously and gives false information.

Nobody proposes those things that you claim.

Everyone should be allowed to enroll at Gallaudet.

English is one of the prime languages at Gallaudet--a bilingual institution.

Hey, you LOST the protest! Now stop bother us with lies and smear tactics.

11/18/2006 5:17 PM  

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