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More Troubles At Gallaudet

The campus of Gallaudet University has been rocked by yet another scandal. As has been widely reported, Gallaudet, a Federally Chartered University for the deaf in Washington D.C., placed Dr. Angela McCaskill on paid leave October 11th pending investigation into whether or not signing a petition has compromised her ability to perform her duties as the school’s Chief Diversity Officer.

McCaskill has a long history at Gallaudet. The first Black female to receive a PhD from the school, McCaskill has been employed by Gallaudet for 24 years. Earlier this summer McCaskill signed a petition in favor of Maryland’s Question 6 which calls for a referendum on same sex marriage. McCaskill was confronted earlier this month by faculty members she later identified as M.j. Beinvenu and Kendra Smith. Unsatisfied with McCaskill’s response, Beinvenu reportedly filed a formal complaint with the University.

In a statement given Tuesday by McCaskill, she claims she met with Hurwitz and suggested a campus wide dialogue be opened. According to McCaskill, Beinvenu was unhappy with this proposal and demanded that McCaskill publicly apologize for signing the petition. Other reports say Beinvenu also demanded McCaskill’s termination. Unable to reach an agreement, Hurwitz placed McCaskill on administrative leave. On Tuesday Hurwitz released a statement to “indicate forcefully” that the school would like to work with McCaskill to enable her to return from administrative leave and continue as Chief Diversity Officer. McCaskill however is still considering her options and according to her attorney, J. Wyndal Gordon, she has not ruled out legal action.

McCaskill has stated that she feels she was bullied by the faculty members and should be compensated for the emotional trauma this has caused. Legal scholars have suggested that the bullying could possibly rise to the level criminal intimidation.

Past troubles at Gallaudet

This isn’t the first incident of bullying or intimidation at Gallaudet. In 1988 the university faced a campus wide protest after Elizabeth Zinser (a hearing person) was selected as the President of The university. Students demanded that the University hire a deaf person as the new university president instead. Despite the fact that Gallaudet prides itself on diversity, students barricaded the campus entrances and burned trustees in effigy in what a former student described as “an attempt to force the university to hire someone ‘like them.'” The movement known as “Deaf President Now” eventually resulted in the hiring of I. King Jordan.

In September 2000 Eric Plunkett was murdered in Cogswell Hall, one of the Gallaudet dorms. Plunkett, a freshman from Minnesota, was a member of the Lambda Society, a gay and lesbian group on campus. According to one former student, panic spread across campus as students worried this murder was a hate crime caused by Plunkett’s association with Lambda. “The administration acted quickly by mandating GLBT awareness and sensitivity training for all students” said the former student. Eventually, Thomas Minch was arrested for the murder. Minch had a close relationship with Plunkett, but police were unable to make a case against Minch and he was subsequently released. Gallaudet did not allow Minch to return to campus despite the protest of many students and faculty who felt he should be welcomed back.In February 2001 a second murder occurred in Cogswell Hall.

Ben Varner a freshman from Texas was stabbed 17 times and left for dead in his dorm room. According to another former student a large portion of the faculty again believed this to be a hate crime. The student claims this caused quite a controversy on campus because Ben was not known to be gay. Days later, Joseph Mesa, a student from Guam was arrested for murder. Police were tipped to Mesa when he forged and attempted to cash a check on Varner’s bank account. Mesa would later admit to murdering Eric Plunkett as well. Mesa told police there was a “devil on his shoulder telling him to kill” and others testified that Mesa was known to fly into unpredictable fits of rage. Despite the admission and testimony, some on the Gallaudet faculty remained certain that the motive was a hate crime. In “Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking” a collaboration of deaf scholars, M.J. Beinvenu wrote with dismay that police dismissed the possibility of the murders being hate crimes. Beinvenu wrote “Later after Mesa was arrested and tried, he admitted that he chose his two victims because they seemed weak to him. Through L/G (Lesbian/Gay) eyes it was evident that Mesa could have thought Ben was weak because he presumed him gay, or vice versa. But no one (including the police) would recognize these atrocities as hate crimes because Ben wasn’t gay”

In the same book, Beinvenu, an “out” lesbian and her partner Kendra Smith (the second person McCaskill claims is involved in the complaint) provided a handout that they first distributed in 1999 comparing similarities between being gay and being deaf. They listed parental,educational and societal similarities among others. A campus divide between gay and straight cultures was becoming more apparent. That division becomes even clearer with comments on ratemyprofessor.com Comments on Beinvenu included:

“Um, what can I say abt her? She is great professor, however, she apparently know her content only in “GLBT” issues, not other issues in oppression. Most of her class discussion tend focus based on her experience as “Lesbian” which I have nothing against it. Come on, there are other issues involved, blahhies on her issue is losing our focuses in her”

“She is anti-intellectual. She does not acknowledge any views other than her own. You can get an A by agreeing with her — even if she is wrong. That’s really tragic for a university professor.”

as well as positive comments like..

“Great legendary professor!”

Kendra Smith received similar comments (although much lower ratings)…

“Kendra is a new professor. She is not sensitive to diversity. She claims to be an expert, but she oppresses people. I was an Asian student and I tried to talk to her when she was my supervisor. From what I heard from others, she took jobs from deaf people.”

“She does not know how to teach. She depends on her partner, MJ Bienvenu a lot. She used her all the time for her role play activities.”

“Don’t take the course under her unless you are hearing.”

These comments reflect the type of division that has taken place on campus since 1988. Gay vs Straight issues have becoming increasingly problematic at Gallaudet but the division between those who consider themselves culturally Deaf vs. those who became deaf postlingually has become equally troubling.

In 2003 a student was reportedly denied graduation due to a conflict in one class. The student claims he lacked one senior level English course before graduating. According to the student, during the course Dr. Pia Seagrave gave a lecture on homosexuality (again this was an English course). The student says a catholic classmate raised an objection to the subject for which she was berated in front of classmates. Part of the course required students to keep a “reactionary journal” for their thoughts on class discussions. The first student noted in his journal that he was not happy with how the professor had berated his classmate. He claims Dr. Seagrave demanded an apology for this entry and even threatened a lawsuit. This month, 9 years later, the issue has been settled and he says he will finally be receiving his degree.

In 2006 the Deaf President Now movement became active for a second time. I. King Jordan resigned and Jane K. Fernandes was selected as the new president. The selection of Fernandes did not sit well with some faculty members and students. Although deaf, Fernandes did not learn sign language until later in life. As deaf blogger Mike McConnell (aka Kokonut Pundit) writes, Fernandes was seen as “not deaf enough” This led to a second major student protest but unlike 1988, students and faculty now had a larger voice….the Internet. Deaf forums were filled with threats of violence including bombings and death. Dr McCaskill reflected on the 2006 event in her press conference Tuesday…

“I quickly looked back to the protest of 2006 Several radical people pushed the students to the front to debate student’s agenda. It was not the student’s agenda. It was not student’s agenda back then and it is not student’s agenda now.”

One of the outspoken faculty members behind the students of this second movement, now called “Unity for Gallaudet” was Dr. Beinvenu. The movement became so volatile that trustee Celia May Baldwin resigned. McConnell provided her statement.

“May 9, 2006

MEMORANDUM

TO: Bill Graham, Board Secretary

FROM: Celia May Baldwin

SUBJECT: Tenure on the Board of Trustees

After many sleepless nights and much reflection these past several days, I regret to tell you that on Sunday night I came to the decision to resign from the Gallaudet Board of Trustees. The presidential search and the controversy that has ensued have put enormous strain and stress on me. I simply could not ignore the numerous aggressive threats I have received over the past weeks.

I cannot express how disappointed I am that it has to come to this point. However, I trust that you will give me your full support and understanding in my decision.

It is my sincerest hope that you feel I have served Gallaudet University to the fullest in the years that I have been on the Board. I admire and respect each of my colleagues on the Board and am glad that I had the opportunity of working closely with several of them in the recent months as the Interim Chair. I also appreciate all the assistance I received from the President’s Office. I am truly saddened by recent events.

I am confident that we all share the same goal of working towards the best possible future for Gallaudet University. Thank you for allowing me to serve this fine institution.”

It is apparent that Ms. Baldwin feels she suffered the same type of bullying that McCaskill and others have claimed to have suffered

In 2007 Gallaudet had it’s accreditation put on probation by The Mid States Commission of Higher Education for not meeting academic goals. The Washington Post reported “criteria used to admit students, the rigor of the academics and low graduation rates” were to blame. The University was later reaffirmed. Around the same time The Office of Management and Budget also became concerned that Gallaudet was not meeting educational expectations.

Why This Is Important

As mentioned earlier, Gallaudet is a federally chartered university. This means the university is funded by federal tax dollars, they report annually to the Dept. of Education and three seats on the Board of Trustees are reserved for members of Congress. Currently those seats are filled by Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California and Rep. Kevin Yoder of Kansas.

Gallaudet’s budget for 2012 is $171 million. Although the 2012 number is unavailable, the amount provided by the Federal Government in 2011 was in excess of $123 million. In addition, students pay over $12,000 a semester for tuition. However, with many of those dollars coming through federal financial aid and state funded vocational rehabilitation, taxpayers pay most of this bill as well. And the burden does not end there. Because deaf students are considered disabled, many receive SSI,SSDI (disability),Medicaid and food stamps. All of this to educate 1,611 students 428 of which are graduate students. And not all of these students are deaf, Gallaudet accepts a few hearing graduate and undergraduate students as well.

Not to be lost in this is the timing of McCaskill’s leave which happened to coincide not only with the October Board of Trustee meeting October 10-12th but also “National Coming Out Day” on October 11th. Messages were sent to all three members of congress that sit on Gallaudet’s board but they have not responded. According to Facebook posts, it appears Sherrod,Woolsey and Yoder were all in their home states during the October Board of Trustee meeting. Gallaudet has not yet posted the minutes of the most recent meeting on the university website. If indeed the congress members were not in attendance, one of the safeguards provided by the federal charter failed to protect taxpayers, leaving trustees and faculty members to do as they see fit. One has to wonder if congress members are merely “rubber stamping” policies set by people with an alleged history of bullying. Also of note, Beinvenu and Smith are not just faculty members, they also sit on the 22 member Faculty Senate.

Much like Howard University, a federally chartered black university formed with the intent of helping freed blacks assimilate into society after the Civil War, Gallaudet was formed with the hope of providing a path for the deaf individuals to fit into society. However, what has resulted is an ineffective blend of political correctness and what Dr. I. King Jordan viewed as “identity politics.” Rather than joining society, a cruel culture of isolation has developed at Gallaudet in which a person trying to achieve success is held back or punished for not fitting into “deaf culture.” It’s telling that very few were willing to identify themselves for this article for fear of being ostracized by the deaf community. As McConnell often blogs, the “all or nothing mentality” is an oppressive and constant fact of life in the deaf community and at Gallaudet.

Ultimately, taxpayers must decide whether or not Gallaudet University is worth funding. $171 million for 1611 students comes to over $100,000 per year per student and that does not include disability benefits. Despite this large federal grant, the Gallaudet Administration seems to have lost control. Continued infighting and bullying among the faculty could potentially cost taxpayers more money in legal fees and settlements. Given that Gallaudet has failed to meet it’s goals or serve it’s purpose it is hard to see the value in continuing funding.

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Comments (19)

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  1. McCaskill supporter says:

    Dr. Angela McCaskill stated that Gallaudet University is managed by bullying, intimidation and fear. These statements were made while she held a public press conference. Reading through some of the above comments gives her public statements credibility. I wonder why her leave of absence was made public by the administrators at Gallaudet, but kept the details of her accusers private? Why subject her, and her family, to harassment and bullying? Can an employer coerce/intimidate employees to vote a specific way? Why was a complaint filed against her for exercising a civic right to participate in a democratic electoral process? Are her personal views as an African Methodist Episcopalian under scrutiny by the administrators at Gallaudet University? Should they scrutinize every faculty member’s religious affiliation before hiring them for a specific job? Is it ok for the 1st amendment to be ignored by a publicly funded University?

  2. Jennifer Berrigan says:

    That’s really offensive to assume that all students exploit on disability benefits unless they truly needed it. I am a graduate from Gallaudet and never had used any of the social security income.

    And don’t tell me that other colleges aren’t dealing with similar issues of bullying and/or oppressions. I feel that this article has blown the issues seriously out of proportion and had made the issues seem very grave.

    “Not deaf enough” was the media’s hook on the issue of Jane k. Fernades. It really stemmed down that process in which she was chosen was unethical and did not follow the standard protocol. Of course, labeling that she wasn’t deaf enough sounded more interesting and scandalous.

    Those are my two cents.

  3. Gallaudet Employee says:

    Yeah that comment Jerimiah made above about how this article attacks two wonderful professors…. at least one of those professors is a private citizen. MJ is arguably a bit more of a public figure but that’s only if she willingling steps into the arena of public debate, which she hasn’t this time out. But no matter. The OTHER professor mentioned took no visible role in any of the incidents mentioned here and is therefore a private citizen, which means she gets more protection, which means that in a libel lawsuit she doesn’t have to prove malice, she only has to prove this website, the story’s author, or the sources contributing to the story were negligent in gathering all the facts. And I’ll tell you something about Rate My Professors. Anyone can write anything, anyone holding any grudge can say anything. At the very least, any competent journalist would strive to avoid a libel lawsuit by contacting the professors directly and asking for their side of it. Was that done in this case or did the author simply pull whatever comments he or she could find from this website and force it into these idiotic arguments and conclusions being drawn? Because being “fair and balanced” here isn’t achieved by merely listing both positive and negative comments. The writer and editor and contributor had better pray these stories are true and the professors don’t have their own verison to tell because if any of this is false or misleading or contains any errors this is most definitely actionable. And I really do hope that you are sued down to your last red cent because you’re not writing about public figures anymore or abstractions (Gallaudet University). You name someone specifically and that person is a private citizen, that’s a WHOLE NEW BALLGAME.

    • McCaskill supporter says:

      That person appears to have a public website at a publicly funded University. It would make them a public figure and representative of the faculty of a publicly funded University.

      • Gallaudet Employee says:

        Oh my God.

        The place to take Journalism 101 is NOT in a courtroom after you’ve been sued for libel.

        A public figure can sue you. Has to prove malice. It’s more difficult. But not impossible. Especially if you quote McConnell. A truly staggering amount of his drivel bashes Gallaudet, the signing Deaf Community, and whatnot. If a public figure had to pray for the perfect example of someone who writes with reckless disregard for anything but his own twisted opinion, McConnel is just EXCELLENT. McConnell practically guarantees the judge is gonna take a very close look.

        A private citizen can sue you too. Only has to prove negligence. It’s a lot easier. The judge will ask (about the private citizen)… “Well did this person willingly participate in a public discussion of this controversey, or have access to the media and use that access to influence the outcome of this issue?” If the answers to those questiosn are “no,” don’t automatically assume that person is a public figure just because he or she works for a federally funded university. The janitor up the hall works there too.

        Furthermore, if it ever hits the point where it looks like people were writing with what turns out to be actual malice, not mere negligence, against people who turn out to be true private citizens, not limited purpose public figures or actual public figures, trust me, you are gonna be up late into the night trying to calculate when your grandchildren will finish paying off the amount of money you’re gonna end up owing.

        In any case though truth is a defense. Just keep in mind it can get to be very expensive and difficult to prove that, especialy in the case of private citizens. It’s not always on them to prove you’re lying or negligent. It’s on YOU to prove that. So the first thing a judge is gonna do is say “Well did you call up such and so to get his or her side of it?” If the answer is no you’re not looking like rainbows and flowers, if you take my meaning.

        In any case, ignore this if you want. In fact, PLEASE ignore it. PLEASE keep taking your BS from Rate My Professor and second and third-hand sources and DON’T call up the individuals you’re smearing directly and DON’T create that phone record. Don’t do any of that. Keep assuming the world is filled up with people who would rather avoid you than fight you. Then when you do end up in court you’re gonna be where you deserve to be.

        • Gallaudet Employee says:

          “In any case though truth is a defense. Just keep in mind it can get to be very expensive and difficult to prove that, especialy in the case of private citizens. It’s not always on them to prove you’re lying or negligent. It’s on YOU to prove that…”

          (On you to prove you weren’t lying or being negligent. At which point you produce records of phone calls you made to both parties, etc. Can we see that here. Actual evidence of an attempt to write a balanced story?)

        • McCaskill Supporter says:

          Quite an interesting response. Thank you for lending even more credibility to Dr. Angela McCaskill’s public statements. You are propping yourself up as a Gallaudet employee, and making threats.

  4. anonymous says:

    awful article, really, you should do more research before you publish anything…

    anyways, look at Gallaudet’s administration. Do you not see any common traits: white, male, kappa gamma afflicted. Should I elaborate more, I think not. Time for changes in administration!! Majority of them has have the same position during the protests and whatnots. Hint: provost, assistant vice President, dean of student affairs, and so on

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with you its awful article…. this one part i have to disagree with you….

      OMG… What does Kappa Gamma have to do with this? Grow up…

  5. Gallaudet Employee says:

    Dangerous, stupid hate-mongering article. Quoting from a guy (Mike McConnell) who is five french fries short of a Happy Meal.

  6. Jeremiah R. Sammons says:

    This is one of those biased, poorly written/researched articles I would normally ignore and not give another thought to– but just for today I am going to make an exception and comment… YOU ARE AN IDIOT! Your research has been minimal/non-existent, your arguments are incredibly flawed, and the bias of your article is almost palpable… I can’t believe your editor allowed this dribble to see the press.

    Gallaudet is far from perfect, but the few incidents of “bullying” you cite are a far cry from supporting the conclusions you draw. On top of that, you attack two wonderful professors basically because they had the wherewithal to report behavior on the part of our Chief of Diversity that conflicts with her job description. (Oh, and they are lesbians who have had a few of their THOUSANDS of students who didn’t like them or the class they were teaching.)

    This article contained no real “reporting”… it is a very narrow-minded presentation of a few facts mixed with A LOT of half-truths/falsehoods/innuendo. Find a new job! (Something I feel Dr. McCaskill should do too!)

    • Anonymous says:

      My research on allegations in this article came up with facts that matches what the journalist of this article wrote. Many of the allegations are credible. Sobering and disappointing. Reality is hard to accept.

      • Ben says:

        Really? It appears that all the faculty bullying was done by two professors – somehow McCaskill and you managed to make it about the entire university. One thing I have to agree with the article (its implication anyway) is that MJ has to go. She’s one power-crazed woman.

  7. Jill says:

    Wow, four completely unrelated incidents over 24 years. That does, indeed, point to a significant “history” of bullying. And Gallaudet has failed to meet its goals and purpose? Based on what sources in your article? One blogger? One report in the Washington Post (never biased, of course.) Perhaps YOUR university failed in its purpose by not teaching you how to do research, evaluate information critically, and the difference between “it’s” and “its.”

    • Jennifer Berrigan says:

      My sentiments exactly!

    • Anonymous says:

      There are many more evidence in the court dockets I found. As much as I would love to discredit this journalist, I am crestfallen.

      • Ben says:

        What “court dockets”? If you’re talking about lawsuits, they’re not always credible sources of fault (for either side) as lawyers always inflate incidents to the max in civil cases.

  8. Ruby says:

    What about the positive deaf, straight work professionals who graduated, have family, and professional work life that you missed out? I have seen many deaf straight couples having wonderful life experience raising families and have professional jobs after college graduation.

    Back to your article, I have known some people dislike for the lady you mentioned for her not being respectful to individuals with different range of hearing loss experiences such as from family with hearing parents knowing sign language or total communication. MJ came from deaf family, and is known for discriminating other deaf people coming from different background than her. She created oppressive attitudes and belittle others for disagreeing her views like discriminatory protest in the past causing JK to be out of consideration as President. Some people are afraid to say that she is not an appropriate faculty teaching Deaf Studies at all. She continually making the campus very discriminatory oppression toward to other deaf people off campus too. Enough is enough for continued, discriminatory toxic environment at the University.

    Lastly, people are asking her to leave Gallaudet University as I consider this place as the precious gem of the higher education serving for deaf people who deserved to be educated in undiscriminatory environment where they can be taught directly through the signed language without using sign language interpreters which is in contrast to other Universities having to pay for interpreting services. So, your argument is not fully valid for the funding concern you have. I believe the problem will be reduced if someone has the gut to ask her to leave because of her oppressive attitudes and screwed up. When I first heard about Dr. McCaskill press conference before she mentioned the name of complaint, my first thought was that same lady you mentioned. Morever, I do not understand why Gallaudet administration moved her to become the Chair of 150th Anniversary of Gallaudet University to be held in July 2014.

  9. Heather Grizzle says:

    Thank you for publishing this. I invite you to view a current situation that is impacting a Deafblind graduate student due to the same systematic oppression that your article discusses.

    http://dbtt.org/a-dream-shattered-by-accessibility/