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I. King Jordan

Dr. I. King Jordan, President of Gallaudet University
King Jordan made history in 1988 when he became the first Deaf president of Gallaudet University, the world's only university with all programs and services designed specifically for students who are Deaf and hard of hearing. That year, Gallaudet students, with support from many alumni, faculty, staff and friends of the University, protested the Board of Trustees' appointment of a hearing person to the presidency.

Deaf students at Gallaudet began campaigning for a deaf president when Jerry Lee, who had been president since 1984, resigned in 1987. Students supporting the selection of a deaf president participated in a large rally on March 1.

To advertise the rally, Gallaudet alumnus John Yeh printed flyers that read: "It's time!  In 1842, a Roman Catholic became president of the University of Notre Dame. In 1875, a woman became president of Wellesley College. In 1886, a Jew became president of Yeshiva University. In 1926, a Black person became president of Howard University. AND in 1988, the Gallaudet University presidency belongs to a DEAF person."

Student leaders Bridgetta Bourne, Jerry Covell, Greg Hlibok, and Tim Rarus, and other students and protesters associated with the DPN (Deaf President Now) movement quickly closed the University and barricaded the campus gates using bicycle locks and school buses with the air let out of the tires.

The protesters issued four demands, which were supported by faculty and staff:

  • That a new Deaf president be named immediately;
  • That Jane Bassett Spilman, chair of the board of trustees (who, it was alleged, announced the board's choice with the comment that "the deaf are not yet ready to function in the hearing world") resign immediately;
  • That the board of trustees, at that time composed of 17 hearing members and four deaf, be reconstituted with a majority of deaf members; and
  • That there be no reprisals.

Students were joined by deaf and hearing supporters from all over the country. Three hundred deaf students from the National Technical Institute for the Deaf came to Washington DC by bus, and others came from all over the U.S. and Europe.  On March 11, about 2,500 demonstrators - a thousand Gallaudet students along with their supporters - marched to the United States Capitol building where speeches were given, both in spoken language and American Sign Language.

On March 13, 1988, the board of trustees met for nine hours. Philip Bravin, the new (Deaf) chair of the board, announced that Spilman had resigned, and that I. King Jordan, the Deaf dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Gallaudet, had been elected President. Furthermore, all four demands of the protesters were met.

Read more about the Deaf President Now movement
Read more about Irving King Jordan