Gallaudet U. yearbooks locked away while committee ponders their release

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Gallaudet University students hopingto see their 2000-01 yearbook have found their efforts obscuredby red tape.

Administration officials abruptly halted distribution of theTower Clock last November after reportedly receiving complaintsabout some of its contents. Nearly four months later, the undistributedbooks remain in the custody of the university while a 16-personcommittee, set up by Provost Jane Fernandes, investigates thematter.

In an e-mail dated Jan. 31, Fernandes explained that the committee,which includes six students, will review the yearbook productionprocess and make recommendations concerning the distribution ofthe 2001 Tower Clock, the role of the yearbook editor andadvisory board, and potential future changes to the productionprocess.

"When I reviewed the questionable material in the 2001Tower Clock and heard how some members of the student bodyand the greater campus community were hurt by it," Fernandes’e-mail said, "I questioned whether the decision to printit resulted in the denial of some students’ rights and freedom.In my role as provost of the university, I believe that I havea moral obligation to purposefully interfere with this activitythat has caused harm to some students and denied their freedom."

The e-mail does not state what specific aspects of the yearbookFernandes found problematic, and the provost did not immediatelyrespond to an e-mail requesting clarification. Yearbook pagesposted on a Web site byan anonymous Gallaudet student included ones titled "BootyCall," "Fans, Booze, Jocks," "The Kiss andGTDs (Gallaudet Transmitted Diseases)," "In Beer WeTrust" and "Games to Play in the Coed Dorms." Theycontained photographs of students dressed in costumes, engagedin romantic activities and drinking at parties.

Ryan Commerson, the 2000-01 Tower Clock editor who graduatedin December, said the administration was likely responding tocomplaints students had about certain photographs and studentprofiles.

"I wasn’t surprised," Commerson wrote in an e-mail,referring to the university’s decision to halt distribution ofthe book. "It was typical of the administration. A friendof mine once said of the administration’s style ‘shoot and thenaim.’"

The staff had been in the process of handing out the booksfor three days when on Nov. 15 Fernandes, Dean of Student AffairsCarl Pramuk and campus security shut down Tower Clock operationsby changing the locks on the door to their offices, Commersonsaid. He estimated that around 100 students had already receivedtheir yearbooks. The current staff has since been allowed to returnto work, although the room that contains last year’s books remainslocked.

"I felt that the manner in which it was done was, forlack of better word, juvenile," said a former yearbook staffmember and current Gallaudet student who asked not to be identifiedfor fear of administrative retaliation. "There were somerumors about possible legal action, which scared a lot of us,naturally. And the provost didn’t even meet with us. She justshut us out. I guess, in a word, the whole thing was unprofessional."

For some Gallaudet students, the issue of student expressionis particularly important since the university is a school fordeaf and hearing-impaired students.

"There was a feeling of futility in the air," Commersonwrote in an e-mail. "A majority of the students felt thatthere wasn’t much they could do about it. You need to understandthe dynamics of our experience as deaf people. We grew up ‘hearing’that we couldn’t do anything. So when we come to Gallaudet, thethought of actually standing up is pointless."

It is unclear when the committee will make its recommendationto Fernandes concerning the 2000-01 Tower Clock. One studenton the 16-member committee called a recent meeting "not productive,"Commerson said.

View pages of the Tower Clock yearbook at