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URGENT Gallaudet’s New President Resigns Amid Student Protests

March 11, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Elisabeth Ann Zinser resigned her position early Friday as president of Gallaudet University, only five days after her selection to lead the school for the deaf touched off a storm of protest from students who demanded a hearing-impaired president.

The university’s board of trustees said it had regretfully accepted Zinser’s resignation and would resume its search for a new president.

Gallaudet Board Chairman Jane Bassett Spilman called the resignation a tragic loss to the university.

″We selected Dr. Zinser as president in recognition of her superior academic, administrative and research skills. Her strengths and accomplishments were precisely in those areas most critical for the growth of the university,″ Spilman said.

On Thursday, students capped the fourth day of protests by declaring Zinser - is not deaf and does not know sign language - unelcome on campus and vowing to keep her out.

Jerry Covell, a leader of the protests, hailed the resignation, but said early Friday that students were still angry with Spilman, who had resisted the push to oust Zinser, who is vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro.

″We are glad that she resigned but we are still waiting for Spilman,″ Covell said.

In submitting her resignation shortly after midnight, Zinser emphasized her concern that the very governance of Gallaudet had been called into question by the week’s events.

The campus was virtually shut down for four days while a large majority of the 124-year-old institution’s 2,200 students protested. The students had attracted members of Congress and presidential candidates to their cause.

Zinser had been named to head the university, the nation’s only liberal arts college for the deaf, on Sunday.

″I accepted the presidency when the board and I agreed that my values, talents and experiences were well suited to the growth of Gallaudet University in the higher education community as well as the deaf community. This remains the challenge for the future of Gallaudet,″ Zinser said in a statement released through a public relations firm.

She said her decision to resign was reached ″with great difficulty as I came to understand how deeply some see the social stature of deaf persons reflected in the presidency of this university.″

Students on Thursday threatened to seize the president’s campus house and office if Zinser made her way past students blocking entrances to the school. The doors to the administration building were chained shut, and no administrators were seen on campus.

In other action on Thursday, one of the two deaf finalists for the school presidency withdrew his support for Zinser and said he would back the student protesters.

A day earlier, I. King Jordan, dean of the school’s college of arts and sciences, had said he was supporting Zinser ″for the good of the school.″ But Jordan told a student rally on Thursday that he could no longer support the new leader.

Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., who is a member of Gallaudet’s board of trustees, said in a statement Thursday he suggested to Zinser that in the next few days she consult with the faculty, students, staff and alumni ″to experience the passion with which they view the appointment of hearing president.″

″The time is long overdue for Gallaudet University to have a deaf president,″ Bonior said. ″The university has for generations been an international mecca for excellence and opportunity in deaf education.

″The question before us is - How long will it be able to sustain this important role without a deaf president?″

Earlier, in an interview with The Washington Post, Bonior said he told Zinser that federal aid for the school may be jeopardized if she refuses to leave the post she was named to Sunday night.

About 75 percent of the school’s $76 million operating budget comes from federal funds. The rest comes from tuition and grants.

Meanwhile, the House Education and Labor subcommittee on select education, which oversees Gallaudet’s budget, scheduled hearings for Tuesday on the controversy over the president and the makeup of the board of trustees.

Zinser had said Wednesday she was assuming her post immediately instead of waiting until the original July starting date.

She also lamented that campus protests have disrupted classes, and said she would take unspecified steps to restore order if the protests, which have been peaceful so far, took a violent turn.

Besides calling for Zinser’s ouster, the students want Spilman’s resignation, and a deaf majority on the 20-member trustees board, which now has four deaf members.

As Zinser attempted to start her job, support for the protesters grew.

Late Wednesday, Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson issued a statement supporting the students, and called on Gallaudet’s board of trustees to ″resolve this dispute equitably.

″The problem is not that the students do not hear. The problem is that the hearing world does not listen,″ Jackson said.

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., another Democratic presidential hopeful, on Thursday called for Zinser’s resignation.

Simon, a longtime member of the Senate Labor and Human Resources subcommittee on the handicapped, which has jurisdiction over funding for Gallaudet, said Zinser’s appointment was a ″slap in the face to the entire purpose of the university.″

Vince Dollard, a spokesman for the National Technical Institute for the Deaf, in Rochester, N.Y., said two buses and several cars, carrying at least 100 students from the school, were to leave at midnight for Washington to join the Gallaudet protest.

A rally was held on the Rochester campus in support of Gallaudet Thursday afternoon.

In addition, some East Coast leaders of the National Association of the Deaf, a 20,000-member deaf rights group based in Silver Spring, Md., were planning to gather in Washington on Friday, spokesman Fred Weiner said.

And activist Abbie Hoffman, who lectures to universities on student protests, said, ″What’s happening at Gallaudet is obviously right there in the front,″ he said, ″and they’re going to win their battle.″

He said he has urged members of three electronic bulletin-board networks, with a total of 16,000 members, to support the students’ efforts by tying up Gallaudet’s switchboards with calls of support for the students.

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