I. King Jordan

Chartered by President Abraham Lincoln and created as an Act of Congress, Gallaudet University was designated and has since become the world’s only liberal arts college for the Deaf World. One-hundred and twenty-four years later it received its first Deaf president in I. King Jordan, amidst much controversy and protest in 1988. President Jordan served in this position for eighteen years and became a well respected International advocate for the Deaf World.

Jordan grew up in a small town outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and enlisted in the Navy after graduating from High School.  At the age of 21, he was involved in a motorcycle accident that left him profoundly deaf. By the time he was 30-years old he had obtained a B.A. in Psychology from Gallaudet University and both an M.A. and Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Tennessee. Joining the Gallaudet Department of Psychology in 1973, he was appointed as the Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences in 1986. However, Jordan’s spotlight in the Deaf community really began to shine in 1988 when he was chosen to be Gallaudet’s first Deaf president. Getting there, however, wasn’t easy.

In February of 1988, the search committee to find Gallaudet’s next president presented three candidates, two of which were Deaf (including Jordan) and one who was Hearing. Soon it became clear that the Deaf World wanted a Deaf president at Gallaudet and a movement called “Deaf President Now” (DPN) was forged. DPN was supported by the majority of students, faculty, alumni, and many outsiders as well. In March the first of several rallies were held on campus in support of DPN.

On March 8, 1988, the announcement came that President-Elect of Gallaudet University would be the sole Hearing candidate. This sparked outrage for the DPN movement and the protests grew.  On March 10, I. King Jordan pledged his support to the DPN movement and the President-Elect withdrew her name from consideration. On March 13, Jordan was selected as the new President-Elect.

Upon his retirement, in an interview with National Public Radio, Jordan commented that his greatest accomplishment was his success in the midst of much skepticism:

I think the most important success I had, the most important thing I’ve accomplished in 19 years as president of Gallaudet is to have succeeded as president because by doing so I become a model for success and other people, young and old alike. They know they can succeed as well.

A popular quote in the Deaf Community is one that Jordan said during his first press conference as president. When asked about the kinds of jobs Deaf people can have, his reply was “Deaf people can do anything except hear.” I believe that it is this perspective that both the Hearing World and the Deaf World needs to understand to have a better appreciation for the Deaf community.

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