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Turmoil at Gallaudet Reflects Broader Debate

Protests over the selection of a new president, Jane K. Fernandes, have thrown Gallaudet, the nation's only liberal arts university for the deaf, into turmoil. But the clash is also illuminating differences over the future of deaf culture writ large, and focusing attention on a politically charged debate about what it means to be deaf in the 21st century.

Should Gallaudet be the standard bearer for the view that sees deafness not as a disability, but as an identity, and that looks warily on technology like cochlear implants, questioning how well they work and arguing that they undermine a strong deaf identity and pride? Or should Gallaudet embrace the possibilities of connecting with the hearing world that technology can offer?

"It's a culture in transition," said Robert Kretschmer, coordinator of the program in the education of the deaf and hard of hearing at Columbia University Teachers College. "What Gallaudet represents is clearly one very strong faction and identity of deaf culture, with a capital D."

This article appeared in the October 21, 2006 edition of the New York Times.


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