Gallaudet University Students Keep Campus Blocked in Protest

Students at the nation's only liberal arts university for the deaf and hearing-impaired promised Friday to keep the campus shut down in a protest over its incoming president.

Gallaudet University students have blocked access to campus buildings since Wednesday, and the incoming president has refused to step aside.

It remained unclear whether university officials will use force to move the demonstrators.

"We hope to do this peacefully," university spokeswoman Mercy Coogan said.

After meeting with police and school officials for three hours Thursday, protest leaders agreed to open one side entrance to avoid being arrested. But others on the blockade of up to 200 students refused, and all entrances remained closed Friday. Classes were canceled for a third day.

On Thursday, students linked arms, forming a human chain across the main entrance to campus as District of Columbia police officers looked on.

"I'm not intimidated at all," said Matt Malzkohn, 26, a graduate student from Los Angeles. "We've had enough."

In an e-mail to The Associated Press late Thursday, Jane K. Fernandes reiterated her intention to take office. She wrote that she will meet with students "as soon as they reopen our university to allow its primary mission of education to take place."

The protests began last spring when Fernandes, the university's provost, was appointed president by the board of trustees. She is scheduled to take over for President I. King Jordan in January.

Fernandes has said some people do not consider her "deaf enough" to be president. She was born deaf but grew up speaking and did not learn American Sign Language, the preferred method of communicating at Gallaudet, until she was 23.

Those who are against her presidency say Fernandes isn't open to different points of view and that the selection process did not reflect the student body's diversity.

"They have no idea who we are," said LaToya Plummer, 25, a junior from Suitland, Md., signing her comments through an interpreter.

Not everyone at Gallaudet supports the protest, however. A small group of students has been gathering at a fence on the edge of campus, where about a half dozen teachers on the other side meet to teach classes.

Jordan became the 1,800-student school's first deaf president in 1988 after student protesters marched to the Capitol demanding a "Deaf President Now." The school was founded by Congress in 1864.