Sunday, February 9, 2020

Former Gallaudet President Jordan's ghost writer revealed for the first time

PRESS RELEASE: Saturday, February 8, 2020, 9:00 pm Eastern Time, including important new material in the Revised Second Addendum

Originally issued: Saturday, August 28, 2010, 1:22 pm ET

Former Gallaudet President Jordan's ghost writer revealed for the first time

David Armstrong has retired from Gallaudet

Long-time Gallaudet staff member David Armstrong has retired from Gallaudet.

This transcript of a radio interview with Armstrong mentions that he retired recently from Gallaudet:

This information has been verified with the administration. Currently, the position of Executive Director of Gallaudet University Press is open and a replacement is not being sought.

Armstrong, as the “Executive Director of the Gallaudet University Press and External Affairs,” had been serving in an expanded capacity, including acting as editor of Sign Language Studies and as Executive Director of Gallaudet University Press, and having a supervisory role over Public Relations department. Armstrong stepped down from his role as editor of Sign Language Studies toward the end of 2009, but was continuing to act until recently as Executive Director of GUPress and Executive Director of External Affairs.

The editorship of Sign Language Studies was then passed to Linguistics professor Ceil Lucas, who is internationally known and respected for her work on the sociolinguistic aspects of ASL and also for working with the Fulbright students at Gallaudet and helping students to obtain Fulbright scholarships, a program with which Gallaudet has recently had great success.

In a Fall 2008 article, which appeared in Sign Language Studies, under David Armstrong’s editorship, author James M. McPherson wrote the following passage:

“Edward soon began lobbying Congress to grant his institution a college charter. He succeeded in 1864, when, even though the Civil War was raging, Congress took time to incorporate the Columbia Institution as a college and to authorize it to grant degrees.” (SLS, Volume 9, Number 1, Fall 2008, page 37.)

The claim that, in 1864, “Congress took time to incorporate the Columbia Institution as a college” is disputed and is probably not accurate. There is no language in the 1864 law mentioning incorporation. The 1864 law law grants the Columbia Institution the authority to confer college degrees, but says nothing about Gallaudet’s corporate status. It is a well-known and accepted fact that Edward Miner Gallaudet lobbied Congress to pass the 1864 law without notifying Amos Kendall or the other members of the Board of Directors of the Columbia Institution at the time. That being the case, it is very doubtful that the 1864 law would have had any relationship to Columbia’s preexisting 1857 Charter (i.e., very doubtful that the 1864 law would constitute any type of amendment to the 1857 charter, especially since it was not labeled as being an amendment), and it is very doubtful that the 1864 law would have been considered a “second charter.” A federal charter is a legal contract between the federal government and the members of the board of directors of the entity being granted a charter. One bedrock and foundational principle of the law is that parties cannot be made participants of a contract without their knowledge. Therefore, it is more likely than not that the 1864 law was simply a law (i.e., an “act,” as Amos Draper refers to it, by fingerspelling, in the famous 1915 film–The title “The Signing of the Charter of Gallaudet College” was not the original 1915 title of the film of Amos Draper, but was added by a film editor when new copies of the films were made in the early 1930s). Although Edward Miner Gallaudet did refer to the 1864 law once as being “the charter of the college,” he did not do this until Presentation Day, May 10, 1899, which was 35 years after the event and he was probably mistaken in characterizing it that way.

The language of the above quote from McPherson could be taken to imply that Gallaudet has two charters, a claim that has probably never been made before. The appearance of this claim in the Fall 2008 issue of Sign Language Studies would be interpreted by some as indicating a lack of effective oversight of the SLS journal at the time, under Armstrong’s editorship.

A similar lack of effective oversight occurred when the book: A Fair Chance in the Race of Life, which contains articles by McPherson and other authors, was published by GUPress in late 2008. In the editorial comments, which prefaced one of the articles, the book’s editors accuse Edward Miner Gallaudet of acting in an audistic and paternalistic manner in the matter of the hiring of Daniel Chester French to create the famous THG/AC statue. Yet the book’s editors failed to place EMG’s actions in proper historical context, which was that most college and university presidents at the time, all over America, acted in a heavy-handed manner in the exercise of their duties, and in that context, EMG’s actions were typical and common for the time and should not be singled out as being unique or aberrant. Any criticisms of EMG’s actions (which might be valid criticisms) should be applied to the wider group of university and college presidents, and should not be directed at EMG alone or be over-interpreted to entail audistic leanings or tendencies on his part. Especially in this last regard, EMG should be given great benefit of the doubt due to his role in helping to found the college, which has had wonderful effects of empowerment that have now lasted for almost 150 years. As the Executive Director of GUPress, Armstrong should have cautioned the editors of the “Fair Chance” book that the editorial comments they were inserting were biased and constituted conclusions made out of historical context. The publication of the book will have long-lasting effects on the reputation of GUPress.

More recently, under Armstrong’s tenure as Executive Director of External Affairs, former Gallaudet PR Director Mercy Coogan was re-hired on a temporary/contract basis to work again with the PR Department. No announcement was made to the wider Gallaudet community that she was being re-hired, and had an announcement been made, it is very probable that the community would have expressed great misgivings about re-hiring Coogan, even on a temporary basis, due to her performance as head of PR during the time of the 2006 UFG protest when she downplayed concerns about the front end loader/bulldozer being used to remove protesters tents at the Brentwood/MSSD gate.

Currently, the administration is not looking for a replacement for the position of Executive Director of External Affairs, and the PR aspect of that position is now being handled by Donald Beil, President Hurwitz’s chief of staff.

The operation of GUPress is presumably now being handled on a temporary basis by Paul Kelly, until a replacement can be found for the position of Executive Director of GU Press.


Here is the full text of the “Editor’s Introduction” of the article in question that was mentioned in the update below:

QUOTE (p. 33 in the “Fair Chance” book):

Michael J. Olson’s meticulously researched article directly challenges benign interpretations of Edward Miner Gallaudet’s presidency. Drawing heaving from primary sources, Olson looks at a previously unexplored controversy that sparked intense debate among American deaf leaders in the late 19th century and raised troublesome questions about Gallaudet’s commitment to equality for deaf people. Olson depicts Gallaudet as ironfisted and essentially absolute in his decisions. Gallaudet operated under the guise of hosting an open competition to hire a sculptor to create a statue of his father and Alice Cogswell, but, Olson shows, even before receiving proposals from deaf candidates, he had already commissioned the well-known hearing artist, Daniel Chester French, for the job. Olson’s research suggests that audism and paternalism were characteristics of Gallaudet’s first president.


There are multiple problems with this disgraceful “Editor’s Introduction.” First of all, the “introduction” (editorial) seems to constitute an act of paternalism in and of itself, since the goal of the “introduction” seems to be to inculcate a particular point of view to readers of a Deaf audience before they have even started reading the article. The claims of the article should stand or fall on their own merits, without such editorial handholding being prominently highlighted at the beginning of the article. Also, the “introduction” constitutes an insult toward the author of the article, and implies that the author didn’t do a good enough job of writing the article in the first place to communicate his intended points to the reader.

Next, the wording of the “introduction” is highly deceptive, starting out with nebulous weasel words and phrases such as “drawing heavily from primary sources,” “looks at...the controversy,” “raised ... questions,” “Olson depicts,” etc., then gliding and shifting into more definitive conclusions than the author himself provided in the article, stating: “Gallaudet operated under the guise of hosting an open competition to hire a sculptor to create a statue....but he had already commission the well known hearing-artist, Daniel Chester French, for the job.”

Not only is this manipulative writing and improperly propagandistic on the editor’s part, but this is just plain bad editing and bad writing. If this is truly the author’s message, why preempt the author and make the point before the reader has read article? The reader might as well just stop at the end of the “introduction,” swallow hard, and then skip to the next article, being left with the impression that the editor’s characterization of the article was accurate.

In fact, the editor’s characterization of the article is not accurate. Nowhere in the article does the author make the sweeping claim that is made in the “introduction” (i.e., that “Gallaudet operated under the guise of hosting an open competition to hire a sculptor to create a statue....but he had already commission the well known hearing-artist, Daniel Chester French, for the job.”)–Such a sweeping claim is simply not in the article itself. The author, rather, is presenting his interpretation of comments made by EMG in a letter that he wrote to French and in comments that he made in his diary. Specifically, the author writes (on p. 37): “This episode [about two storms blowing over an apple tree]...suggests that President Gallaudet was more closely involved in the selection of French than some of the Deaf leaders thought.” (emphasis added). Later the author refers to: “The apparent conflict in Froehlich’s statements, as well as the seeming decision to select a hearing artist without a formal process...” (emphasis added). The author does not go on to use more definitive language, but presents his thesis as a thesis, needing to be supported by interpreting pieces of evidence. Nowhere does the author make any definitive, sweeping claims, as was made in the “Editor’s Introduction.”

The “editor,” in his “introduction,” is the actual person(s) involved who is acting in an absolutist manner, by not properly taking into the account the historical context (that most college presidents acted heavy-handedly and exerted undue influence during that historical period), and on top of that, by not taking into account Deaf history.

After the Milan Conference of 1880, Deaf education was slowly careening into major crisis mode. One very plausible interpretation of the later decision to change the name of the “National Deaf-Mute College” to “Gallaudet College” would be that a name change would help to prevent the takeover and/or change in the philosophy and mission of the college on the part of Alexander Graham Bell (which Bell could have perhaps done by lobbying Congress, and did later try to do in at least one instance) and firmly cement the college’s link to the establishment of the Hartford school and to the pedagogy and philosophy brought to America by Clerc and used at that school. Erecting a statue of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet and Alice Cogswell would be a major step in the direction of cementing the college’s link, in the public’s mind, with the Hartford school. If the name change was done for that reason and if the statue was erected for partly that reason, then the historical context of the events can accurately be described as a type of political emergency.

In such types of emergency scenarios, people’s actions must be judged carefully in the specific contexts in which they occur. One only need keep in mind that the announcement of a proposal to erect a statue honoring THG was made at the NAD convention in 1883, at the same time Bell was preparing to deliver his infamous “Memoir” speech in New Haven, Connecticut, which he did that November. The paper he presented was titled: “Upon the Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race”. Bell had been working on this paper for years by writing letters to superintendents of Deaf schools all over the country, and this fact would have been well known to the people who were involved in deciding to propose the erection of a statue to honor THG.

A more appropriate view of EMG’s actions would be one of him being a strong advocate for the social equality of deaf people and hearing people. EMG even explicitly referenced such concept of equality by stating the following in his 1864 inaugural address: “Dr. [Thomas Hopkins] Gallaudet gave to the world the most convincing proof of his belief that the deaf and dumb could through education be made the social and intellectual equals of those possessed of all their faculties, by taking one of his own pupils as his wife.” Five years later, during the second commencement ceremonies, EMG gave another address, stating: “Deafness, though it be total and congenital, imposes no limits on the intellectual development of its subjects, save in the single direction of the appreciation of acoustic phenomena.”—These are not statements made by a person who thinks Deaf people are inferior. To the contrary.

The editor of the “introduction” to Olson’s article in the Fair Chance in the Race of Life book makes no reference to any of these wider considerations and no reference to the wider historical context. Such type of out-of-context conclusion-making represents the quintessence of absolutism, and thus a more appropriate conclusion, on our part, to make would be that it is instead the editor(s) of the introduction who is acting in a way that is “ironfisted and essentially absolute in his decisions,” and is succumbing to psychological projection in writing the “introduction” in the way that it was written.


Brian H. Greenwald and John Van Cleve were the editors of the book: A Fair Chance in the Race of Life–The Role of Gallaudet University in Deaf History, which was published by Gallaudet University Press in 2008 under David Armstrong’s executive directorship.

Here is the link to the Worldcat listing for the book:

Readers will recall that Brian Greenwald was Chair of the committee that ran the “150 Years on Kendall Green–Celebrating Deaf History and Gallaudet” conference, which was held at the Kellogg Conference Hotel on April 11-13, 2007. The other members of the conference planning committee were: David Armstrong, Senda Benaissa, William Ennis III, Gene Mirus, Joseph Murray, Nicole Sutliffe and John Van Cleve. No disclaimer was made at the conference as to explaining how the decision was made to invite I. King Jordan to be a keynote speaker at the conference. The decision to hold the conference was made in 2006, while Jordan was still President of Gallaudet, and the decision to invite Jordan to be a keynote speaker was, therefore, a decision that was made under his auspices. Such a situation calls for a disclaimer to be made, as is common practice in television and print journalism and in other professions. The “Fair Chance” book is essentially a follow-up to the conference, and the book also contains no disclaimer or explanation. Instead, the book contains propagandistic remarks by Jordan, which amount to rationalizations and dodging responsibility for acknowledging his role and his shortcomings in taking actions that ended up inciting the 2006 protest—a protest that could have been avoided had he acted differently during the term of his presidency.

Readers will recall that I. King Jordan (ostensibly) used the term “absolutists” in his January 22, 2007 commentary that was published in the Washington Post. Whether or not Jordan used a ghost writer on his January 2007 editorial is something that has also not been acknowledged or addressed. The question arises as to whether or not it was David Armstrong who actually wrote the infamous WaPo commentary and had it published under Jordan’s name, thus, continuing the exploitation of deaf people by using them as dupes, as it appears Paul Kelly had being doing vis-a-vis King JordanJordan, our erstwhile hero who was taken from us, by the machinations of the power-elite for their own purposes.

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Addendum (Sept. 21, 2022): The 1869 commencement ceremony was actually the second commencement ceremony, not the first, as is widely believed (with even television's Jeopardy question writers perpetrating this false information). Melville Ballard graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree, the very first earned degree issued by the College, in 1866, and "exercises" were held (in other words, a commencement ceremony) in Chapel Hall during which his degree was granted. The 1869 ceremony was the first commencement ceremony involving more than one graduate, and is important on that basis (and is even currently indexed as the "first" commencement by the GU administration) 

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