In His Own Words

“My all-day interview happened on Saturday. It was very intensive, and when it was over, I felt confident. I knew I had done well. I went home that evening and told Linda that I was sure I would be offered the job. On Sunday, I got the call from Phil Bravin informing me that the Board had selected Elisabeth Zinser.

I was stunned.”

“I never saw the TV coverage of the students protesting. Remember, that was before captioning, so I rarely watched TV. I went to work on Monday and found all the gates locked. I parked the car on 6th Street and was getting out of it when a friend drove past, stopped, and asked me to go to breakfast with him. So we drove to the Tune Inn on Capitol Hill, and as we were eating, he filled me in on what had been happening since the announcement of Zinser’s appointment.”

“I was asked by the Board’s chair to meet with Catherine Ingold, the University’s Provost, and get her help in arranging a meeting on Wednesday with the student leaders and Zinser. The four students, Zinser, an interpreter, and I met in a small, stuffy room in one of those discount motels on New York Avenue-Room 105-I still have the key somewhere at home. Zinser asked that the students give her a chance to prove that she could lead the university well, but they kept repeating the four demands. They assured her that no one was against her personally, but they wouldn’t budge until their demands were met.”

“After the meeting in the New York Avenue motel room, the students and the interpreter left. Zinser and I were picked up by a car and driver. I thought we were headed to Myra Peabody’s office (the Board had hired her company to manage the publicity surrounding the presidential announcement) and was surprised when the car stopped in front of the National Press Club where Peabody had arranged a press conference to be held. The room was packed with media people. Judge (Thomas) Jackson moderated the press conference. [)Board Chair) Spilman announced Zinser’s appointment, and Zinser spoke about her goals for Gallaudet.

I never expected to address the press conference and wasn’t prepared to say anything when they asked me to come up to the front. I remember when I stated that as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, I supported the Board’s decision, the look of disbelief and disappointment on the face of Mary Lou Novitsky, who was covering the press conference for Deaf Mosaic…”

“After the press conference, I returned to campus. The faculty were meeting in Elstad. I arrived just as Harvey Goodstein was urging the group to join the protest. When he finished, he saw me standing backstage. He came over and gave me a hug and said he would always be my friend, but that he would continue to fight…”

“That night [after the press conference announcing Zinser’s appointment], I went home and thought about it some more. I said to myself, ‘Sure, I’m a dean and should support the Board of Trustees, but hell, I’m also deaf and will be for the rest of my life, and that’s more important.’ Then Pete Merrill [a former Gallaudet president] called and advised me to ‘listen to your heart and do what it says.’ So, I talked to Linda and told her that I’d changed my mind and had decided to go with the students.”

“Early the next morning, several Gallaudet people visited me at my home. I told them that I realized I’d made a mistake in supporting the Board’s decision and that I’d changed my mind. They were thrilled. We contacted the DPN Council [a group comprising the four student leaders, three faculty members, three staff people, and four representatives from the Deaf community], which organized a press conference for the following day, Thursday.”

“Also that night, Greg Hlibok and Elisabeth Zinser were interviewed by Ted Koppel on Nightline.”

“The press conference on Thursday was held in front of Chapel Hall. Again the media arrived in droves. As I read my statement, I figured that I’d killed any chance I might have in the future of becoming a college president or even a college administrator. But it didn’t matter. Later that day, Zinser resigned.”

[That night, Zinser and Spilman resigned. Phil Bravin became the Board’s chair. The next day the students and their supporters marched to the Capitol. They returned to campus and awaited the Board’s decision.]

“On Friday, I went to BWI airport to pick up a friend who was coming to visit. I didn’t know that Zinser had resigned. I met my friend, who is hearing, and as we headed to the parking lot, he told me that I was being paged over the airport’s loudspeaker. I think the message from Linda was something like, ‘Call home immediately.’ That’s how I found out that Phil Bravin had been trying to reach me and wanted me to call him as soon as possible.”

“I really had no role in making DPN happen. Credit for that goes to people like Harvey Goodstein, Roz Rosen, Jane Norman, Charles Giansanti, Gary Olsen, Bummy Burstein, John Yeh, the “ducks,” and scores of others who had a goal and would not give up until they reached it.”

“DPN was not about I. King Jordan or any one person. The issue from the start was always a deaf president. Who that president would be was of much less importance.”

“My first six months on the job are almost a blur. I did a lot of PR things-interviews and the like. At the press conference called the day after it was announced that I had been selected president, I remember one reporter asking me if I really believed that being deaf was not an obstacle to success in life. I looked the guy in the eye and told him that ‘deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear.'”

“The very first day I came to work and walked into the President’s Office in EMG, Phil Bravin and Greg Hlibok were there waiting for me. There we were, the Chair of the Board of Trustees, the President of the SBG, and the President of the University-all deaf.

It was a powerful moment.”

“DPN’s impact on hearing people was to demystify deafness for them, show them that there is no stigma to being deaf. For deaf people, DPN showed that we didn’t have to accept limitations that are put on us by others.”

Deaf President Now: Profiles and viewpoints

Bridgetta Bourne-Firl Student Activist Jerry Covell Student Activist Greg Hlibok Student Activist Tim Rarus Student Activist Phil Bravin Board Member Elisabeth Zinser Hearing Presidential Candidate Jane Spilman Board chairperson President's Council on Deafness Special Advisory Group Jerry C. Lee Former President Dr. I. King Jordan...

National Deaf Life Museum

Resource Type: History

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