I. King Jordan
Doctor of Civil Law
"We will no longer set limits on what we can achieve," Dr. Jordan declared to a cheering crowd of university students, following his appointment as the first deaf President of the United States' only four-year degree granting institution for hearing impaired students, Gallaudet University. This statement also applies directly to Dr. Jordan, who assumed this position of President after a week-long student protest at his Alma matter. The protest sprang out of the attitude of the Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees, who steadfastly argued that "A person who is not deaf could run a university for the deaf as well as anybody else," and also that "deaf people are not ready to function in the hearing world." This caused the Gallaudet students to go berserk. The end product was the resignation of a number of individuals, thus clearing the way for a deaf man to be named Chairman of the Board of Trustees, and Dr. Jordan as President. This Gallaudet University students claimed victory in the pursuit of their basic civil rights. Tired of suffering prejudice, paternalism, stereotyping, and unequal opportunity, they rejoiced when their new President drove home the message that "deaf people can do anything?.except hear." A challenge for Dr. Jordan then arose as soon as he had been appointed President. "He awoke with a problem, namely that he was a leader of a revolution, but he wasn't a revolutionary. He certainly did not want to show the door to his hearing members of his Board of Trustees, as some of the deaf urged him to do. He also did not want Gallaudet University to become an Island of proud deaf people. He wanted it to be what he had been - a bridge between the two worlds. His task was a delicate one: to expand the hearing world's new consciousness of the deaf, but not to allow the deaf world's zeal to race out of control.
He, himself, had had practice in bridging both worlds, in that he had been made deaf when hr suffered a severed cranial nerve from a motorcycle accident. He knew that he could not afford to drift aimlessly anymore, and began studying at Gallaudet. "You would think that the accident would have narrowed my world - limited me," he now says, "it did the exact opposite. I started to pay attention to the world, instead of taking it for granted." He graduated from Gallaudet University with a Bachelor of Arts degree, and pursued, and successfully completed, Master and Doctoral Programmes at the University of Tennessee.
In today's society, when political correctness seems to be the order of the day, it was interesting to learn that Dr. Jordan considers the word "deaf" to be a fine one - "I mean, I am a deaf person - my ears don't work. There are some people who choose to use the words hearing impaired, but I do not want to attach 'impaired" to my psyche or being. I am deaf - it's just a physical condition, its part of my totality. So, "deaf" is a fine word to use." He noted that ten years ago, there were no deaf CEOs, doctors, lawyers, or MBAs because people did not think that deaf people could do those things, but today, more and more individuals are coming to realize that deaf people can do anything - except hear.
As a teacher, he was much loved, noted for being able to bolster students' flagging hopes, and now, in his role as President, he keeps a hectic schedule of speaking engagements and interviews, in addition to his University responsibilities. He envisages his responsibility as being far greater than the 2,200 students at Gallaudet. He regards his mandate as stretching beyond the campus, arguing that "if I fail, all deaf people fail. If I stop, I'll never get going again." He is aware that the time for his message is right. "I cannot stop now, I have to do this, the timing is everything."
Aside from the administrative responsibilities as CEO of Gallaudet, he has become an international spokesperson for the deaf. He is constantly encouraging deaf people to break new ground. Along with this drive is relentless energy which enables him to run more than twelve marathons, or ultra marathons (a marathon that consists of a 50-100 mile run through rough terrain), a year. In October of 1995, for instance, he completed a 100 mile ultra in Arkansas in 21 hours, whereas the month before, it took him 31 hours to finish one in the Utah Mountains.
In his academic life, he joined Gallaudet's Department of Psychology as a faculty member, becoming its Chairperson in 1983, and in 1986, Dean of the College of Arts and Science. He has also served as a visiting research fellow at Donaldson's School for the Deaf in Edinburgh; as an exchange scholar at Jagiellonian University in Krakow; and as a visiting scholar and lecturer at institutions in Paris, Toulouse, and Marseille. He holds ten honorary degrees, and has received numerous accolades, including the Washingtonian of the Year Award, and the Freedom Award from the Washington Times Corporation. In 1990, then President George Bush, appointed him as Vice-Chair of the President's Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities.
He and his wife Linda have two grown children, King Junior and Heidi.
In early 1996, Gallaudet was in the International news because of a $3,000,000.00 bequest from a 94 year old widow, Olive Swindells, who had no formal ties with the school, but who was, deaf, as was her husband, who preceded her in 1994. The money is used to complete the Gallaudet-Kellogg University Conference Centre. Dr. Jordan said "We are very proud of that gift. Educating deaf students is so vital. Statistics indicate that a college education is extremely important for the deaf. Fifty percent of all deaf individuals over 21 without a college education are unemployed. The unemployment rate for Gallaudet students is five percent. It really makes a difference."
Dr. I. King Jordan will receive a Doctor of Civil Laws (honoris causa) degree at the afternoon Convocation.