Gallaudet University, the only university in the world focused specifically on deaf and hard-of-hearing students, is locked down. Some students — though it’s never clear how many or what percentage of the overall student body — have barred the entrance to the school to protest the pending installation of a new president, Jane K. Fernandes.
The complaints against Fernandes are myriad, ranging from displeasure with her purported top-down management style to accusations that the presidential search process was not racially inclusive. No one issue, though, appears to be an overriding concern, nor do the reported issues, together, seem to justify students taking the school over Taps style, with football players providing muscle at the gates and even Gallaudet’s elementary and high schools shut down.
As overblown as all this seems, though, it shouldn’t be of much concern outside the university, right? After all, isn’t Gallaudet a private college, meaning that whether or not students shut it down should ultimately be a matter between the students, the school, and maybe a few parents who’d like to know what their tuition payments are going for?
For one thing, almost all American institutions of higher education receive substantial funds from taxpayers, whether it’s state money going directly to public colleges or federal dollars going to research grants, student aid, or just plain pork at public and private schools. As a result, almost any college shutdown not only costs students and schools time and money, but taxpayers as well.
The Gallaudet situation, however, is even worse. Two universities in the nation receive huge, direct appropriations from the federal government every year, and Gallaudet is one of them. (Howard University is the other.) For FY 2006, Gallaudet received a direct federal appropriation of more than $104 million, plus another $3 million in government grants and contracts. That same year, the school’s total revenues were slightly less than $149 million, meaning that 71 percent of Gallaudet’s money came directly from federal taxpayers. That makes Gallaudet, for all intents and purposes, a federal university.
Unfortunately, now you know, and what seemed to be just Gallaudet's problem, it turns out, is yours as well.