Silent Protest: Deaf Students Demand Deaf Dean

A group of deaf students at Ohlone College, a small school south of San Francisco, “have formed a group called ‘DDA’ — which stands for Deaf Dean Always” — and are organizing “a silent protest” to replace the retiring dean of deaf services with someone who is deaf, reports KNTV, Channel 11 (NBC) in the Bay Area.

Ohlone’s official response?

Dr. Jim Wright of Ohlone says if the school hired a dean based on being deaf, it would be a violation of affirmative action laws.

I wonder what “affirmative action laws” the good doctor refers to. And I also wonder if there might not be an exception, a loophole if you will, in whatever those law are that would allow, or even demand, naming a deaf dean in the name of diversity.

Say What? (14)

  1. Nels Nelson March 23, 2004 at 3:56 am | | Reply

    John, I may be misinterpreting your statements, but if not I have to wonder if this might be a case of the reporter, and not the college administrator, misappropriately using the term “affirmative action,” as I don’t see anything wrong with Wright’s direct quote within that report. In an article from the Ohlone College newspaper, Wright seems to me to make a perfectly sound statement:

    “We cannot discriminate against people based on race, religion, ethnicity, disability or lack of disability. Just as we wouldn’t be able to say that we are only going to consider hiring a hearing person, we can’t say that we’re only going to consider hiring a deaf person.”

    And another administrator is quoted as having said, “The college has an open and fair hiring process. We would like for the students to be a part of the hiring process, but first they must be trained as to what constitutes legal and illegal questions.”

    Between the two articles, Wright appears to understand and make the distinction between discriminating based on “disablity or lack of disability” and requiring that the new dean knows sign language, a bona fide expectation for someone who will be communicating with deaf students.

    Based on a glance at the school’s data for faculty and student demographics, if they’re employing preferences in hiring and admissions it’s certainly not working. African-American and Hispanic instructors combine for less than 10 percent of the total, and women account for a little less than half of the faculty. And, bearing in mind that this school is in California, Hispanics and African-Americans combine for only 12 percent of the student population.

    Ohlone appears to be a typical community college – the school admits all of its applicants, many of whom are part-timers or attending night classes, the average student age is 28, and an Associate’s is the highest degree offered. The administration at such a school is not interested in “diversity,” nor do students have much influence, seeing as how they’re paying 18 bucks a unit and are there for two years at the most. Such a college is much closer to how the real world operates, as opposed to the large universities which sound like sealed bubbles of fantasy.

  2. meep March 23, 2004 at 9:21 am | | Reply

    I think he meant Equal Opportunity hiring laws. Alot of people conflate Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action (in that they think a lack of “affirmative action” means people are denied equal opportunity, when that lack is more likely to mean equal opportunity).

  3. Tutissima Cassis March 23, 2004 at 11:00 am | | Reply

    Legal Discrimination? I Don’t Think So.

    Discriminations has an interesting post about calls to hire a deaf dean of deaf services at a small California school. According to the school, hiring someone because they were deaf would violate anti-discrimination laws. I am doubtful….

  4. Nate Oman March 23, 2004 at 11:03 am | | Reply

    It isn’t at all clear to me that refusing to hire a person because they are not deaf is actionable discrimination of any kind (at least under the ADA). I blogged a bit about this in response to this post over at

  5. John Rosenberg March 23, 2004 at 2:25 pm | | Reply

    Nels, meep, Nate: Terrific comments all! The first two point out that someone — and it looks as though Nels is right in fingering the reporter — confused civil rights/equal opportunity laws with “affirmative action.” This is the very issue, of course, that’s now being hotly debated in Michigan, and will be debated even hotlier (!) if MCRI makes it onto the ballot. The common belief that “affirmative action” = “civil rights” is a depressing indication of the old and ongoing failure of those of us who oppose racial preferences to make the distinction clear. And then Nate comes in to complicate matters by saying that even a refusal to hire the hearing would not necessarily violate real civil rights laws. In the old, pre-ADA days the question would have been whether deafness could properly be made a “bona fide occupational qualification” for the deanship. (Can I hear someone whispering in the background, “Why not, since so many deans in fact seem to be deaf to so many issues…”?)

  6. bluenorthernstar March 28, 2004 at 6:03 pm | | Reply

    Let me give you another perspective….My hearing sister took French and Italian at our local high school. The Italian teacher grew up in a Canadian-Italian family and spent a few years in Italy studying the language. Her French teacher came from Montreal. My Italian cousin moved to Dublin, Ireland to study English and my Italian-Canadian cousin moved to Italy to study Italian. It doesn’t take much to see that to be really embedded into a culture, you have to be a part of it, both the language and the culture, so that the understanding of the specific nationality is more rooted to their country, their customs, beliefs and way of life.

    As for the Deaf, to be a part of the culture, one must come from the culture. Requiring the knowledge of Sign Language as a job requirement doesn’t spell much. For a hearing to take a few courses of sign language and only know the Deaf on a professional level, that doesn’t amount to much. The Deaf community is right when they ask for a Deaf dean. It takes one to know one.

    To sum it up, in “The Mask of Benevolence: Disabling the Deaf Community”, by Harlane Lane, Pg 69: It will be unthinkable today for black studies programs to be composed entirely of white people who published articles about black people in professional journals; nor could there be an all-male women’s studies program that published antifeminist literature.

  7. Victor Cardenas April 12, 2004 at 6:24 pm | | Reply

    Disabled includes more than deaf


    After reading The Monitor’s report of the recent rally for “Deaf Dean Always,” (DDA) I felt that the other side of the story was not fully explored.

    The supporters of DDA, as well as the rest of the campus, may be unaware that the Dean of Deaf Studies and Special Services is not only a dean for deaf students.

    There are other students under the dean: those with visual, learning, physical, and psychological disabilities. On campus, these ‘other’ disabled students were referred to other colleges until two years ago.

    Disabled students should be treated equally and fairly, not as elite and separate groups. It is unfair to give preference to an incumbent dean based upon her or his disability, or lack thereof.

    The new dean should focus on all aspects of the Disabled Students Programs and Services, not just one.

    A student with a disability should not be treated above another disabled student. As a student and an employee here at Ohlone College, I would like students, faculty, and staff to take a closer look at the ramifications of what is being said by DDA and its supporters. No disability is greater than the other.

    It’s important that we recognize that equality among disabled students, and all students, is of utmost importance especially with Unity Week approaching.

    Victor Cardenas

    Disabled Students

    Counselors Assistant

  8. llechukwu Jude August 23, 2004 at 10:24 am | | Reply

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  9. llechukwu Jude August 23, 2004 at 10:24 am | | Reply

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  10. Anonymous August 23, 2004 at 10:25 am | | Reply

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