Friday, May 16, 2008

NTID President Reaches Decision on Bell Dorm

O & B received permission from Dr. Hurwitz to reprint the materials below in this website.

From: Alan Hurwitz
Date: Fri, 16 May 2008 11:08:40 -0400
To: NTID - All
Cc: Bill Destler , Don Beil , Gerard Buckley , Christine Licata , Ellie Rosenfield , Al Smith , Alan Hurwitz (note email addresses have been removed to prevent spam)
Conversation: Decisions regarding AGBell name
Subject: Decisions regarding AGBell name

NTID Community:

This email conveys my decisions regarding the issue of the use of the Alexander G. Bell name on one of our dormitory buildings and the plaque within that building honoring Bell.

As you will recall from my email of February 20, 2008 (attached), I established a working group to advise me on the decisions associated with the building name and plaque. That email summarized the issue as follows: “It is argued by many that a number of attitudes, opinions, and actions that Alexander G. Bell promoted during his lifetime are not supportive of the diversity of people who are deaf, and therefore do not represent NTID.”

Equally important, in that communication to the NTID community I asked that your personal comments be shared with me as we moved forward. My thanks to the scores who did respond to my invitation and did communicate with me. Not only did I benefit from your counsel, but I would like you to be aware that I took the liberty – after removing the identity of the senders – of sharing those comments with the advisory group so that they too would have the benefit of your counsel.

Additionally, since several staff members on the working group were unable to serve to the completion of the task, I took the opportunity to meet with members of NTID Staff Council Block 5 to solicit their feedback on this issue.

After a careful review of the final report of the working group (attached), and after consultation with all of the audiences above, as well as with counsel from the NTID Administrative Team, my decisions are as follows:

We will retain the Alexander G. Bell name on the building.

In making this decision, I find the working group was not able to reach a clear consensus regarding removing the name; therefore I have decided not to remove the name from the dormitory.

We will remove the plaque in the dormitory now, and in time replace it with another Bell plaque with different wording.

In making this decision, I find that my views are consistent with this statement from the report. “The group is of one mind that, minimally, the wording of the plaque must be changed.”

We will post a statement of the NTID values and philosophy regarding communications. Our community has always provided a welcome environment in which we strive to accommodate all students no matter what their communication approach or philosophy; we want those views reflected in this new posting. This might be through a plaque in a prominent location or with some other appropriate media. I invite your thoughts on this topic.

In reaching these decisions I seriously and carefully considered the final report of the working group as well as your many individual communications with me. Since I attended some of their meetings, I was able to weigh firsthand the deliberations so carefully undertaken by those on the working group serving all of us. I urge you all to read their report in its entirety, for it provides the context within which my decisions were made.

I thank the members of that group (their names are listed at the end of their report) for the seriousness in which they accepted this task, for their extensive deliberations, and for their thoughtful, deliberative, insightful final report. This was and is a serious issue and I ask that all understand that both the working group report and my decisions are reflective of that deliberative frame of mind.



February 20, 2008 Hurwitz email announcing the working group
May 8, 2008 final report of the working group

T. Alan Hurwitz, Ed.D.
President, NTID
Vice President and Dean, RIT
Rochester Institute of Technology
National Technical Institute for the Deaf
52 Lomb Memorial Drive
Rochester, New York 14623-5604

(585) 475-6443 (TTY)
(585) 475-6317 (V)
(585) 475-5978 (Fax)


Anonymous said...

Of course Alan ignored the committee's MAJORITY decision to remove and re-name the dorm and kept the AG Bell name and plaque. He has historically ignored the plea of the students and the community. This decision just reinforces NTID's lack of respect for D/deaf people and the language of ASL. I am ripping my diploma from RIT/NTID up and throwing it in the trash, I am ashamed to say I graduated from the institute.

Dianrez said...

I was heartened to hear the unbiased listing of pros and cons but felt that the pros of removing the Bell name were far weightier than the cons.

The arguments for keeping his name seemed to be vauge and based on two parameters: the recognition of nonsigning students on campus and the requirement for an overwhelming consensus.

Perhaps we need to find a stronger person to honor with a balanced philosophy in order to support the nonsigners; Bell did not measure up as a champion of deaf people, rather, a single, heavily invested methodology.

Weitbrecht by himself would have been an excellent choice. Although oral, he was a very personable man who enjoyed being with signers and understood them as much as oral people.

Anonymous said...

"The arguments for keeping his name seemed to be vauge and based on two parameters: the recognition of nonsigning students on campus and the requirement for an overwhelming consensus."

I concur with this statement.


Anonymous said...

Just another example as to why everyone can't please everyone. Just move on and make best of it just like Alan acknowledged Bell's views on both sides but he's moving on for sake of the big picture. RIT/NTID is a fine institution but has more serious concerns than that naming issue. There are many businesses and places deaf use that has dark histories of their own against deaf people. I saw some of you people eat at Denny's restaurant. I saw many of you people buy VW. Why the double standard? Get on with the program.

Joseph Pietro Riolo said...

My heartfelt thanks to the members of the working group. It is not appropriate for me to say I can truly understand all kinds of difficulties that they had to go through for I am not involved personally in the group but I can only visualize the heated discussions, mental and emotional conflicts, tensions between the members and the public, and strains on their minds and bodies. I hope that the members will always remain friends after the process ended.

I am not completely pleased with one of the decisions made by Dr. Alan Hurwitz but I am ready to abide by his decisions and will give my best respect to his authority in making the difficult decisions on the extremely controversial, divisional, sensitive issue.

I especially like - no, change that word to love - love the new idea of making the NTID values and philosophy more visible through a new plaque or media. (I prefer both – plaque and media.)

Good luck to those who are finishing up projects or who are/will be taking final exams, hearty congratulations to the students who will be graduating soon, have pleasant summer and most importantly, be always safe at all the times, especially while driving.

Joseph Pietro Riolo

Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

Anonymous said...

to JS,

There was NOT an overwhelming consensus to keep the plaque! Alan made the decision to ignore the committees recommendation period and is showing NO respect for student who do sign! This is a complete misuse of his "power".

Deaf Cinema said...

copy of what i sent to the NTID community after a few others expressed their shock and disappointment publicly


I am also puzzled, baffled and flabbergasted by the decision declared below.

There was a majority vote in favor of removing the dorm name from Bell hall and a majority vote to change the name from Bell hall to NTID Alumni Hall by the advisory / working group as well as a recommendation that community dialogue take place before any decision was made.

A petition with over 1,000 signatures by faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members requesting that the dorm name and plaque honoring AG Bell be removed has been shared with Dr. Hurwitz and Dr. Destler but is not mentioned in the email below.

I want NTID/RIT to be a place of integrity.

This means that if we had a dorm and plaque honoring an individual who advocated for ASL only and banned English from the life of that child – we would all object to such an honor also.

EXTREMES on either side – Oral only or ASL only are follies and intolerant.

I know of no individual in US Deaf history who has ever advocated for an ASL only education but if there were such and my university were honoring her/him, you can rest assured I would advocate for the removal of such an honor.

Creating a statement, sign, plaque, or other form of media to show that NTID/RIT celebrates language diversity and respect for all is incongruent with having a dorm building and revised plaque in honor of AG Bell, a man who advocated for an exclusive approach to educating deaf people, tried to prevent Deaf to Deaf marriages, banned Deaf people from being allowed into the Normal College (teacher training program at Gallaudet), claim of inventing the telephone and owning the patent have been called into question numerous times (most recent – see Seth Sulman’s The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell's Secret), has no direct relationship to NTID/RIT and is an odd duck amongst all the building names on our campus (See Dr. Edward’s Chasing Aleck: The Story of a Dorm in the Public Historian).

So it seems AG Bell is still having an adverse impact upon the deaf community by dividing us yet again and again. See for a Deaf woman’s interview with her 93 year old grandmother (hearing) about being told not to sign with her deaf children.

Many thanks for your attention to this matter.


Patti Durr

Anonymous said...


It lists pros and cons.

In my professional opinions, cons outweights pros.

I can't understand Alan Hurwitz's decision. He was (or is) a member of AG Bell himself, you remember that!

Joseph Pietro Riolo said...

Since majority is mentioned in few comments, I would like to make a comment on majority and consensus.

The rule of majority is very common throughout this country and the world that does not need any explanation. Basically, it is driven by the number alone and the number is determined by the popularity. Consensus, on the other hand, is not driven by number but is based on the agreement from all or almost all parties that are affected by an issue. This country is not void of consensus. Jury in some criminal trials is required to have full consensus in order to make a verdict. Few organizations use the process of consensus to determine their standing on an issue. League of Women Voters is one of them that uses consensus to decide the importance of an issue and to form a position on it. Some or few cultures in other countries value consensus more highly than majority.

Each approach has its own advantages and limitations. I will focus on the role of minority in each approach.

In the rule of majority, the input from minority and the role of minority are easily disregarded once the vote is completed. Sometimes, the minority can feel left out of the process. But, the people in the minority usually accept the outcome of the rule of majority because it is the rule that they agree to at the first place.

The rule of consensus, on the other hand, recognizes the role of minorities on the equal footing as the role of majority. It does not focus on the popularity of a position. It does not focus on the number of people that support a position. Instead, it expects all parities to recognize that each party's view is as valid as each other's view. It is one of the best antidotes against the shortcoming of the rule of majority as illustrated by this saying, "What's popular is not always right; what's right is not always popular".

It is never proper for me to speak for Dr. Hurwitz and the members of the group. I can only conjecture from the letter and report. It seems to me that in order to resolve the issue of the naming of Alexander Graham Bell dorm, the input from all parties must be searched for and be taken into consideration. An input from a party can't be easily discounted just because it comes from one or few people. An input from a party can't be given heavy weight just because it comes from a thousand people. In this kind of very sticky situation, the best approach to the resolution of the issue is, I believe, consensus. I don’t think that the rule of majority is highly appropriate for this situation.

I would never discount the disappointment that some or many people in the majority have in the decisions made by Dr. Hurwitz. I only can hope that they also recognize that the minorities can also have the same disappointment if Dr. Hurwitz decided to go with the rule of majority. Also, I hope that they recognize that the rule of consensus does have a place in the process.

Joseph Pietro Riolo

Public domain notice: I put all of my expressions in this post in the public domain.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the NTID Board and President Hurwitz. Nice Job! FYI Having approx 1000 signatures from students, fac/staff and alumni's IS NOT THE MAJORITY. Someone should do their research on the number of Students, Fac/staff, Alumni's and determine what would be the majority breaking number of each group and as well as a whole.

Anonymous said...

sent to the NTID community - permission to reprint here granted by the author


Dear Colleagues,

I concur with Karen Christie, Tim Conley and Patti Durr. Likewise, I find the decision of keeping AGB's name on one of our buildings inconsistent with reason and logic.

One of the cons in the document by the working group states that AGB was an eugenicist. This fact alone should have been sufficient to prove that this man's name must be removed from one of our buildings. Eugenicism has been much and widely frowned upon since the era of Nazism. Therefore, NTID/RIT has a moral, as opposed to political, responsibility to express its support for the removal of AGB's name and plaque from one of its dorms.
Legitimate anecdotal evidence of stories about spoken communication abuse is growing at an unprecedented rate. One can easily find this evidence by visiting often. Spoken communication abuse is a terrible reality. It is a topic that almost always comes up when I visit with my dear friends, while I drive to work, while I watch my favorite TV sitcoms, while I do errands. Consequences of spoken communication abuse can be serious if the victim chooses to not to seek appropriate support. Regrettably, with the numbers of deaf people being "asked" to use spoken communication as their primary communication mode on the increase, young deaf people face the prospect of being less emotionally and mentally stable throughout their lives. We owe AGB a huge debt of gratitude for this enduring legacy he has left behind.

Oh, don't forget the Pepsi ad that was shown during this year's Super Bowl that incited the AGB Association (AGBAD) to inappropriate action-- writing a letter to scold the Pepsi company that its ad was ineffective, misleading the American public to believe that ALL deaf people sign. This statement implies that signing is not normal! The AGBAD also falsely claims that deaf people who use ASL are socially isolated. This is a flat-out deception. As ASL fluent users and people who cannot speak fluently, Deaf people embrace and are embraced by many non-signing hearing people in their lives.

The time to act honorably is now!

Respectfully Yours,

Pamela R. Conley

"We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed."

-- II Corinthians 4: 8-9

SDA said...

very sad...
this is disappointing...
now you know that alan and his gang are perpetuating the cycle of audism...
so unfortunate!!
you know - you can all always try to keep appealing until they turn blue in their faces...
don't give up!!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

sent to the NTID in response to the decision - reprinted here with permission from the author

On 5/19/08 10:32 AM, "Aaron Kelstone

I am new to the NTID community. There are many of you with longer histories than I have who can correct me if I am wrong concerning what I am about to say in this email. First, from conversations that I have had with others it appears that the A.G. Bell issue has occurred at least several times in the past and for whatever reasons went away after a while.
I suspect that this time it will not go away.
It will not go away because we know from Dr. Edwards scholarly article that the naming of all of the NTID buildings have an association with someone who directly or indirectly nurtured and supported the establishment of NTID with the exception of A.G. Bell.
It will not go away because we know the naming of a NTID building after A. G. Bell is an oddity. It is an oddity because Mr. Bell would not have approved of the establishment of NTID. Mr. Bell advocated most of his adult life for the dissolution of deaf schools, deaf newspapers, deaf clubs, and deaf marriages. Mr. Bell believed and advocated for the isolation of deaf people from one another to discourage the opportunities for deaf people to interact with one another. The concept and establishment of NTID goes directly against the grain of his advocacy during his lifetime.
It will not go away because as Dr. Hurwitz has stated “(w)e will post a statement of the NTID values and philosophy regarding communications. Our community has always provided a welcome environment in which we strive to accommodate all students no matter what their communication approach or philosophy…” and this is a philosophy that Mr. Bell did not advocate during his lifetime. As Patti Durr has stated so well, we do not need to condone extreme perspectives from either side of the fence. We can come together and find our center on this issue.
It will not go away because the concept of NTID is unique as it proposes that Deaf and Hearing individuals can learn, innovate, and create side by side with respect for each others’ culture and perspectives on life. This concept is unique enough that other countries, through PEN-International, have chosen to copy it. Not Gallaudet University, not CSUN, but NTID. This says a lot for our concept of inclusiveness and Mr. Bell did not believe in diversity and inclusiveness. He was concerned and fearful enough to write a paper on “The Formation of a Deaf Variety of the Human Race,” specifically because he feared diversity. At NTID/RIT I believe we do not fear diversity.
It will not go away because as Dr. Christie noted, the working group came to an “unanimous agreement that A.G. Bell held perspectives, goals, and promoted objectives that are different from and inconsistent with the perspectives, goals and philosophies of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology,” and for this reason remains a concern for all of us at NTID.

Since the issue will not go away let us:

1. Continue signing the petition. 1,000 names is good but it is not inclusive. We need to hear from all of you.

2. Let the plaque come down and hang it up somewhere else, but not on a NTID building.

3. Come to a consensus that renaming of the building after the alumni seems to be a practical and non-controversial solution for all.


4. Have a NTID gathering at the Panara Theatre with Dr. Hurwitz to allow all members of the community to address the issue just as we did with the communication issue which resulted in a consensus decision to practice “Respect” in the hallways of NTID. We can find a consensus on this issue as well.

Finally, it will not go away because we do not need to ignore the 900 pound elephant in the living room any more.

Anonymous said...

response to the NTID community re: the decision - permission to reprint here granted by the author

I’m stunned and signless (speechless).

Tim Conley

Anonymous said...

response to the Bell decision - reprinted here with permission from the author

Respectfully to the NTID community,

I have followed this controversy closely, and as a hearing member of the NTID community, it is difficult to know whether I have the "right" to weigh in on this issue. Because I have devoted countless hours of my energy and professional life to uphold what I believe NTID stands for, I have decided to take the risk. There are certain sensitive issues , "elephants in the room", that stubbornly persist. Our old favorites - signing in public spaces, the lack of standardized quality of the signing abilities of instructors of deaf students, adequate provision of interpreting services, etc. rise and fall with the regularity of the moon's tidal pull. The decision to leave the AG Bell plaque surprises me simply because it seems so clear-cut and simple.

A suggestion was made earlier that the plaque, with the wording as it reads or with changes, be moved to a more appropriate location which would be frequented by those who would least likely take umbrage at its honoree - to the speech and auditory center on campus. The symbolic weight of its current location now makes it a two-fold slap in the face. Not only was the man himself a supporter of eugenics, but this plaque is affixed to a DORM. A DORM ! Anyone who has studied the history of the Deaf in the US understands what
dorms have meant in the transmission of Deaf culture. Dorms would be considered by Bell to be the epitome of dangerous "breeding grounds" that
would engender the kind of cultural pride and continuity of community most antithetical to his beliefs about what should occur with the Deaf population.
It is tantamount to honoring a member of the KKK on a black church, a synagogue, or a catholic church. Yes, the KKK represents a different point of view, but it would be considered a colossal insult to those communities to
have those who would destroy them honored on their own walls.
It seems to me that leaving the plaque is revisionist history. Once we know what we know about a person, shouldn't we stick to the facts and pick a suitable place to honor them in the way that, if given the choice, they would
choose to be honored ? To those who worry that AG Bell's memory would not be respected, is it truly being respected now, with a plaque located in the area with the most Deaf language, Deaf pride, and Deaf-Deaf relationship traffic
on campus ?

Can't this be a win - win situation somehow ?

> Sincerely,
> Miriam Lerner, CSC
> Department of Access Services

Anonymous said...

To NTID community re: decision - permission to reprint here granted by the author

On 5/16/08 1:06 PM

Given that the working group came to an “unanimous agreement that A.G. Bell held perspectives, goals, and promoted objectives that are different from and inconsistent with the perspectives, goals and philosophies of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology,” I honestly find the decision to retain the name of AG Bell on one of our buildings as incomprehensible....

I do wish that we could have resolved this manner so that our community would not be repeatedly faced with this issue.
Karen Christie

Paul said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

O & B has removed the post by Paul K as it uses inflammatory and insulting language towards a Deaf community member.

About Orange Brown Coalition

Mission: To share with the RIT community about Deaf Culture (language, history, humor, etc.) and related activities.

To facilitate relationships between Deaf and hearing members of the RIT community through awareness of our cultures.

To provide opportunities for self-empowerment and self-advocacy of Deaf people on campus.

[Click Here To View ASL Version]