Speaker Pelosi's Choices for Gallaudet University Board of Trustees Public Members Fall Short of Ideal

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House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently announced the selection of two Members of Congress to be seated on the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees as public (Congressional) members. The choices follow a medical-pathological approach to deafness and are less than ideal on that basis. As part of its new educational integrity campaign, Student Unity Movement calls on Speaker Pelosi to monitor the appointments closely.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi recently announced the selection of two Members of Congress to be seated on the Gallaudet University Board of Trustees as public (Congressional) members: Donna E. Shalala of Florida and Larry D. Bucshon, M.D. of Indiana.

During the Clinton administration, Ms. Shalala served as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees and administers the work of the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). At the time of the creation of the NIDCD in 1988, Deaf people requested that the word "Other" not be used in the title of the new institute (https://bit.ly/2SRlnVH), but their request was disregarded. The NIDCD was, to a large extent, simply a continuation of the work that had been going on for many years under the "communicative disorders" program of the National Institute of Neurological and Communicative Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), but it served as a showcase vehicle for Sen. Tom Harkin, who had an ambitious political agenda. Over the years since the creation of the NIDCD, tens of millions of federal dollars have been spent on research relating to cochlear implants (https://bit.ly/2SVFP85). As a US Senator, Hillary Clinton had been a member of the Congressional Hearing Health Caucus (https://bit.ly/39LxKt5), which strongly promoted the development and use of cochlear implants (https://bit.ly/2P09ZWz). It was expected that Ms. Clinton would have also strongly promoted their use, had she become US President. From 2015 to 2017, Ms. Shalala served as President and CEO of the Clinton Foundation.

Sen. Harkin also spearheaded the funding and establishment of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the early 1990s and has been accused of promoting pseudoscience (https://bit.ly/2V5yJAB). Prior to the eruption of the Deaf President Now protest in March 1988, then-Senator Harkin had been looking for a way to get a “disability rights” bill passed in Congress. The Deaf President Now (DPN) movement was demonstrably *not* part of the disability rights movement (https://bit.ly/2vCSC7p), and did not grow out of such, yet after the DPN protest victory, and after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the newly appointed deaf president, I. King Jordan, developed a friendly relationship with Senator Harkin (https://bit.ly/2SPzkUd). Jordan’s rhetoric then shifted gradually over the ensuing years to a disability frame. This led to the creation of the American Association of People with Disabilities (AAPD) in 1995, with him (the new deaf president of Gallaudet University) being a co-founder (https://bit.ly/2PkDmTt).

In 1988, the new (Eighth) Jordan Administration had begun with the assistance of an advisor to the president who previously worked together with the president as “assistant dean” when he was dean (https://bit.ly/2SQ5TRN). That assistant dean possessed a doctoral degree from Union Institute & University – a doctoral degree for which no dissertation was required – arguably indicating unfitness to serve as advisor in a doctoral-degree-granting university. In April 2000, the Eighth president unilaterally appointed a (later, very controversial) provost who then misrepresented the Deaf education research literature in an article in the New York Times, in reference to signing vs. oral methods, claiming: “No studies exist showing that one method works better than another” (https://bit.ly/2HtGrMD). Another professor was appointed by Jordan to a high profile position within the Administration, purportedly working on improvements in equity, and that professor also possessed a degree from Union Institute & University with no dissertation being required (https://bit.ly/37y9WaO) – all this demonstrating a clear trend toward overall administrative incompetence – leading inexorably to political debacle when the Eighth president supported that provost in becoming his successor, and that provost making pseudoscientific claims, misunderstanding the nature of American Sign Language and not understanding why it is a bona fide, autonomous language (https://bit.ly/2Pl1iGe).

While current Gallaudet president Bobbi Cordano chose to complete a JD degree (with no dissertation required), instead of an SJD, which requires a dissertation and is research-oriented, and while there were governance irregularities (http://bit.ly/2SSRLZn) at the beginning of a seven-year chain of events that eventually led to her appointment, suggesting the hidden hand of Senator Harkin being in play (http://bit.ly/3bVCZbE), it is often the case in life that “the exception proves the rule.” With the exception of the president of the board of the alumni association (http://bit.ly/395DWMA), which is an elected office and falls outside of her purview, Cordano, in the opinion of Student Unity Movement, has been engaged in an extensive process of “cleaning house” and surrounding herself with thoroughly qualified people (http://bit.ly/2w2F3Os).

Student Unity Movement applauds the forward progress being demonstrated by the Cordano Administration, and looks forward to a long and productive tenure for the current Gallaudet president. Further, Student Unity Movement calls on Speaker Pelosi to keep close tabs on the new trustee appointees, while keeping in mind that Gallaudet is an institution of higher learning, not a medical rehabilitation agency, and therefore trustee appointments done with a pro-cochlear-implant (i.e., pro-Auditory Industrial Complex-backed Congressional campaign funding) mentality are not only wholly inappropriate, but are reckless, risking the well being of the students involved.

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Brian Riley
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