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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Jordan's Long Legacy of Lies, Distortion and Deception

On Tuesday, March 7, 1989, Gallaudet University's Eighth President, Irving King Jordan, Jr., appeared before a United States Congress, House of Representatives Appropriations subcommittee along with three officials of the US Dept of Education. Silvio O. Conte, a representative from the state of Massachusetts, and Jordan, spoke the following:


CONTE: In your state of the University speech last week, you spoke of [Gallaudet] University as a bilingual and bicultural center. Would you expand on that?

JORDAN: In the 1950's, hearing and deaf researchers at Gallaudet began to realize that deaf people in America constituted a unique community that had its own language, American Sign Language (ASL), and its own customs and traditions, different from those of the hearing majority. It has also been recognized that Gallaudet has been the center and the leader of this community since its founding in 1864...


In this brief exchange, we find encapsulated what would be the theme and underlying motives of Jordan's entire upcoming, eighteen-and-a-half-year presidency at Gallaudet. Jordan starts out by identifying what is obviously true, and what has been understood and accepted without controversy for quite a long time. He recognizes the legitimacy of Deaf culture and the legitimacy of Gallaudet University as being the center of the American Deaf culture movement. Jordan's continuing statement, however, hints strongly of the inside-out direction in which his educational policy is soon to head:


JORDAN: ...In addition, as a national university in the United States, it also has the role of educating its students to face the challenges of contemporary American life. This means that our students have to be proficient in English, mathematics, the sciences and the history and culture of their country. Thus, Gallaudet has always served a dual role, both as a center for the perpetuation and enrichment of the culture of the deaf community and as a uniquely designed educational program to provide for the enculturation of deaf students into larger society...


Jordan's claim is false. Jordan's statement presupposes a lie, of which he himself would become the biggest perpetrator, the lie that Deaf culture represents an inward-turning, navel-gazing mentality of a somewhat backwards people, whose persistent desire to hang onto a language (which supposedly isolates them from a majority culture) must be counteracted by the supposedly more broadminded social force of educational institutions.

In fact, there is not today, nor has there even been a dichotomy, or duality, which separates Deaf culture from the majority culture. And the members of Deaf culture are in no way, shape, or form inward-looking members of a cultural backwater. In actuality, the central animating force of the Deaf culture movement has always been education itself. The bedrock foundation of Deaf culture itself *is* education, due to its unique origin in the famous school for the Deaf founded in Paris in the 1760's, and due to the method by which Deaf culture is transmitted from one deaf generation to another in the residential boarding schools.

English as a lingua franca, mathematics, and the sciences, represent universal pursuits and universal values that belong to those who pursue them, and therefore belong to members of the American Deaf culture, too. Such pursuits are Deaf-culture values and cultural byproducts as much as they are values and byproducts of the majority culture. If this were not the case, then, since academia has its roots in ancient Greek culture, all western educational institutions would be "dual role" institutions which inculcate Greek values into foreign cultures. But there is no such dichotomy or duality in any such culture. The ancient Greek academic values have become universal values and are therefore not foreign values to the cultures that adopt them.

Such a mistaken view of Deaf culture may stem from Jordan's personal projection of his own personal history, having grown up in a small town without any particular ambition, content to drift through high school, taking five years to graduate, and then offering himself up to the United States Navy as a passive human vessel to be molded by an outside force. Then when Jordan decided to give up the purposeless life and cast his eyes outward to the world of purpose and ambition, he experienced university life as a chore instead of as a joyous adventure in personal enrichment, pushing himself to slog away at his studies daily from 5 a.m. onwards.

He was now deaf. We can surmise that he felt isolated and cut off from the larger world, hence his false indictment against Deaf culture. If he's cut off, then "they" must be cut off, too, he must have thought.

Did it ever occur to him that his personal experiences in life may perhaps not be applicable to others? A person cannot feel a sense of loss for something he never possessed. A person born deaf, then, will not necessarily experience the sense of being "cut off" from others, as Jordan suddenly felt when he became deaf at age 21. Likewise, if Jordan experienced personal drift and purposelessness growing up, he shouldn't assume that purposelessness and small-mindedness is the normal state of a person or a group.

Jordan's ability to speak served as an advantage in impressing his superiors, and they promoted him mostly on the basis, as he rose in rank as a Gallaudet professor to department chair, then dean. In the mid-eighties, he had the reputation of being a intellectual lightweight who was more interested in sports and personal training. He could be seen daily in the gym with his close friend and work-out buddy, Paul Kelly.

In August 1987, Jerry C. Lee resigned as President of Gallaudet. A search for a new president was begun and Jordan threw his hat in the ring, probably just "for the heck of it." Jordan had seen how Lee had been maneuvered into the presidency by the Board, without even a proper search being conducted. Then, during the presidential selection process, Jordan also saw how the most qualified person got maneuvered out of the process, in a blatantly unjust way.

During his years as a Gallaudet professor, Jordan had done consulting work with various federal agencies and officials. He's never said much about it publicly since 1987. He also no doubt met members of Congress at various sporting events, be it at the Marine Corps Marathon or elsewhere.

But in March 1988 he bounced his way into the presidency of Gallaudet. Like a volitionless metal ball in a pinball game, Jordan witnessed history happening around him and without him, in what was, up to that point, the culmination of over 200 years of progress in upward advancement for the people of the Deaf culture movement. Jordan, instead of seeing Deaf culture for being the magnificent phenomenon that it is, had for years lamented his condition, considering himself to be a "hearing person who couldn't hear" and who, not long before, had proudly told the author of "Dancing without Music" that he was "not a real member of the deaf community," and that he considered himself to be a "deafened hearing person."

Jordan knew that he wasn't the right person to be President of Gallaudet and that he didn't really represent the people who created the political mandate for a deaf president. Later correspondence shows a probable acquaintanceship with Senator Tom Harkin that pre-dates his appointment as the President of Gallaudet in March of 1988. Whether Jordan honestly presented himself, as he was, to the Board, in his interviews in March of 1988 after Zinser resigned, or whether he attempted to take advantage of prior connections to become President, or whether his prior connections were eager to take advantage of him, we can only speculate. From the vantage point of having seen his malevolent actions of 2006, one might be inclined to suspect the worst.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi there. I am a very strong supporter of FSSA (as you might know). However, I am not sure you can really point to IKJ's problems by attacking his (this) statement. As I read it, he was just trying to state the obvious- which is that Gallaudet has two functions:

1) the center of Deaf Culture and

2) to prepare its students to fully function (and succeed) in the hearing world. I maybe wrong about this- please educate me as to where you got your point from.

To be honest- the more I read your post- the more I get confused.


Raphael J. St. Johns, C-87, G-00


Jordan made the false claim that Gallaudet has: "a dual role, both as a center for the perpetuation and enrichment of the culture of the deaf community and as a uniquely designed educational program to provide for the enculturation of deaf students into larger society."--This is an ethnocentric smear against Deaf culture, because it portrays Deaf culture as being an inward-oriented and separatist movement.

Jordan has continually attempted to portray Deaf culture as being some kind of cultural "step-child" of world culture, when actually culturally Deaf people are full and equal participants in world culture and Deaf culture is a fully integrated and equal partner with all other cultures of the world.

When culturally deaf people study English, mathematics and the sciences at Gallaudet, they are not doing something "outside" of Deaf culture. Education is fully an integral part of Deaf culture. When culturally deaf people pursue universal educational values, they do so with both feet firmly planted in Deaf culture itself, because Deaf culture is already an expansive, outward-looking movement.

That's exactly what the purpose of a culture is, to act as an integrating a forward/progressive social force that fosters the sharing of universal values and enables those values to be developed further and transmitted from one generation to the next.

Jordan attempted to destroy the meaning of culture during his 18 years by distorting the perception of what Deaf culture is. He used false definitions and false viewpoints as a method of gaining personal political power and pursuing his own personal agenda.

April 12, 2007 at 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ok- I see your point. Thanks.

Raphael J. St. Johns C-87, G-00

April 12, 2007 at 2:01 PM  

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