Irving King Jordan was born on 16 June, 1943 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.
Called Deaf President Now (DPN), the week-long protest was a watershed event in the lives of deaf and hard-of-hearing people all over the world. At its conclusion, the Board reversed its decision and named Irving King Jordan, 1 of 3 finalists for the position, the 8th president of Gallaudet and the 1st deaf president since the institution was established in 1864.
Irving King Jordan is a native of Glen Riddle, a small town near Philadelphia in the U.S. state of Pennsylvania. After graduating from high school, Penncrest High School, in 1962, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served 4 years. Irving King Jordan became deaf at the age of 21 when, while driving a motorcycle, he obtained a skull fracture due to not wearing a helmet after having been flung into the windshield of a car.
As professor, department chair, dean, and president, Irving King Jordan has made numerous scholarly contributions to his field. In addition, he has been a research fellow at Donaldson’s School for the Deaf in Edinburgh, Scotland, an exchange scholar at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and a visiting scholar and lecturer at schools in the French cities of Paris, Toulouse, and Marseille.
Irving King Jordan and his wife, Linda, live in West River, Maryland. They have 2 grown children. Irving King Jordan loves running daily.
Irving King Jordan holds 11 honorary degrees and is the recipient of numerous awards, among them: the Presidential Citizen’s Medal, the Washingtonian of the Year Award, the James L. Fisher Award from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), the Larry Stewart Award from the American Psychological Association, and the Distinguished Leadership Award from the National Association for Community Leadership. In 1990, President Bush appointed Irving King Jordan Vice Chair of the President’s Committee on Employment of People with disabilities.
On campus, he was widely applauded for his successful efforts to increase funding, including funds for the expansion and construction of 2 new large-scale centers for education research and support.
On Thursday, 1 September, 2005, Irving King Jordan announced his intentions to retire from the Presidency effective 31 December, 2006.
Irving King Jordan became the subject of controversy himself when he defended the controversial decision made on 1 May, 2006 by the Board of Trustees to appoint Dr. Jane Fernandes as president designate. The announcement of her selection set off a campus-wide protest.
Critics claim that Ms. Fernandes was not highly regarded by both the faculty and students, and many deeply suspect Dr. Jordan orchestrated her ascension for personal reasons. Dr. Jordan, taking a line from page 10 of the 1995 book, “Deaf President Now” (by Christiansen and Barnartt), publicly accused some critics of rejecting Ms. Fernandes because she was allegedly not “deaf enough”. They replied that such a charge is off-base, because Irving King Jordan himself was accepted as president, even though he did not become deaf until he was 21. The protesters insisted that they protested for more profound reasons, such as Ms. Fernandes’ character, leadership, and policies.
The protesters also took issue with the fact that during escalating tensions between the administration and protesters in October 2006, Irving King Jordan proceeded to host ceremonies in which the Student Academic Center was renamed after him while a wing in the Washburn Arts Building was renamed after his wife. Many of the dissenters took the moves as a sign of Irving King Jordan’s arrogance and narcissistic attitude.
On 13 October, 2006, Irving King Jordan ordered mass arrests of Gallaudet University Students at the 6th street gate. Dubbed as Black Friday, a total of 135 student-protesters were arrested. The bail was originally set at $250 as requested by Irving King Jordan. The D.C. Metropolitan Police later decided to set it at $50. This set off even larger protest the following day estimated at 1,000 people.
Many in the deaf community interpreted Irving King Jordan’s actions in arresting the protesters as an act of political suicide on his part. The protesters prevailed soon thereafter, on 29 October 2006 when the Gallaudet Board of Trustees met and voted to rescind Jane Fernandes’s contract to be the 9th President of Gallaudet.
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