Saturday, May 24, 2008

O and B position request for Bell dorm to be renamed

NOTE: this position statement was composed and approved of before the decision to reconsider was announced to the community. Rather than revise it based on this latest step, O & B has sent it forth to properly and formerly explain and document our discontent with the original decision and our rational for our request that the dorm be renamed.

We are very grateful that the initial decision is being reconsidered. Perhaps the most significant part of this document is the proposed wording for a new plaque at the bottom of this letter.


To: Dr. Hurwitz
CC: Dr. Destler
From: The Orange & Brown Coalition
Re: The Dorm and Revised Plaque in AG Bell’s Honor
Date: 23 May 2008

The Orange and Brown Coalition, which is made up of students, staff, faculty and alumni of NTID/RIT, request that the Alexander Graham Bell dorm be renamed because honoring A.G. Bell is incongruent with what RIT stands for.
  • RIT values integrity (Bell has been accused numerous times of forgery and plagiarism),

  • RIT values respect (Bell did not respect the wishes and voice of the deaf and hard of hearing people of his time),

  • RIT values diversity (Bell showed no tolerance for sign language in deaf education, was exclusive and extreme in this philosophy, and actively worked to prevent deaf people from being teachers),

  • and RIT values pluralism (Bell actively tried to prevent, diminish, and destroy the pillars of the Deaf community and Deaf culture - ASL, Deaf schools, Deaf teachers, Deaf organizations, and Deaf marriage practices).
We are deeply hurt by the decision to keep the name of Bell dorm and to set up a new plaque in his honor. We are deeply hurt by the continued tendency to give greater weight to fear that some people may be offended or may misunderstand a decision to remove Bell’s name from the dorm at the expense of those who have demonstrated our opposition and offense peacefully.

Removing the name of AG Bell from one of our dorms in no way targets Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals who prefer to use speech, individuals who teach speech, and/or those who work in the field of audiology. Our opposition is to the individual--AG Bell, and how he fostered a rigid exclusiveness connected with the teaching of speech to deaf/hard of hearing individuals (and the complete intolerance of sign language) ---- not against the acquisition of speaking skills. If the administration is to worry about potentially offending anyone by removing the name of the dorm, they must show equal concern, respect and value for the multitudes of people they have been offended by the decision to keep the name.

Much discussion has revolved around the AG Bell working group's statement: "The group could not reach a consensus…a thoughtful, considerate and conscientious group of people found that they could not agree." While the working group’s statement that was bolded goes unnoticed: "However, the working group came to 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." AG Bell working group final report to Dr. Hurwitz dated My 8, 2008


We are puzzled that the administration, both at the NTID level and RIT level, has decided that it is reasonable to support the minority vote because the majority vote was seen as not being a "clear consensus." One should not make decisions based on default.

Furthermore, it is generally known that controversial issues rarely get strong majority votes - hence, this is why they are considered controversial. Many difficult US Supreme court decisions are made by a 5/4 vote. It is not a strong consensus but it still becomes the law of the land. The dissenting opinion never rules SIMPLY because the majority was deemed too weak. The vote was: 6 Keep and 8 Remove – yet, the administration decided TO SUPPORT the minority vote. The working group closed their report with the statement: We would like to suggest that you distribute our report to the NTID community and provide opportunities for input as you determine your recommendation(s) to President Destler. This recommendation did not mean that a decision first be made, and then a community dialogue take place afterwards.

In reviewing all the materials before us:
  • scholarly publications on AG Bell's role in deaf education and Deaf history and AG Bell and the telephone invention and patent

  • the petition with over 1,000 signatures from students, faculty, staff, community members (Deaf, hard of hearing, and hearing) that the administration still has not formally acknowledged

  • email responses opposing the decision to keep the dorm name in Bell's honor

  • the many, many, many private emails and personal communication we have received from individuals telling us they are disgusted, upset, and in shock over the decision but are fearful to express this to the administration privately or publicly

  • and receiving no valid reason as to why a dorm name in Bell's honor is fitting on RIT's campus and why a minority dissenting vote rules the day
we humbly request that you rename the A.G. Bell Hall on RIT campus.

Please rest assured that if NTID/RIT had a building honoring someone who advocated exclusively for the teaching of ASL and banished English and speech from a deaf child’s educational experience, we would object vehemently to honoring this as well. NTID/RIT is playing right into A G BELL’S LEGACY -- – polarization within deaf education – -the oral/aural only camp and the bilingual camp (where ASL and English are equally respected). We regret this very much.

We acknowledge and value Drs. Hurwitz and Destler's statement at our May 22, 2008 meetings that no personal attacks, threats, or hostile environments will be tolerated towards individuals or groups in favor of keeping the name or those in favor of removing the name.

Lastly, we would like to offer new wording for the new plaque for NTID Alumni Hall.
NTID has been referred to as the “grand experiment” because its vision was to have a Deaf college exist within a Hearing college. Without a doubt, this grand experiment has been a successful and meaningful one. Thousands of Deaf and Hard of Hearing people from all walks of life are welcomed here to study, learn, grow, contribute and achieve in this unique environment. The values of pluralism, diversity and respect are lived out every day at RIT because of the existence of NTID and Deaf/hard of hearing students on campus.
We see it in the best interest of our community to resolve this matter as soon as possible as we do not want the controversy to adversely impact the upcoming NTID alumni reunion nor enrollment.

We are happy to meet with you if you desire any further discussion and we thank you in advance for your careful attention to our request.


The Orange & Brown Coalition


Anonymous said...

You state "The Orange and Brown Coalition, which is made up of students, staff, faculty
and alumni of NTID/RIT", Why don't you have a list of 'members' of this 'Orange and Brown Coalition'? I would assume specific groups and/or people are being misrepresented via your organization. I think it's misleading that your organization may be representing a larger group of members/community than it's actually consisting of.

Anonymous said...

The Core members of O&B Coalition are: Ruthie Jordan, Joseph Kolash, Noella Kolash, Pam Conley, Patti Durr and Karen Christie

O&B has hosted numerous workshops throughout the year with many people in attendance.

We did not list the core members on the position paper because a multitude of other individuals have been involved with O&B activities through out the year as well as our meeting with Dr. Destler.

To list only the core members diminishes the full group and all the people who have been involved one way or another - including the 1,000+ signatories on the petition.

The CC in the email listed the core members.



Paul said...

Congratulations that we are moving forward! Thank you to Alan for reconsideration! This is an important step in the right direction.

Paul Kiel

Anonymous said...

Paul, you already said "good bye NTID", why bother checking on this website.

I know that we don't need a troublemaker!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous....You apparently don't know the meaning of "good bye". It means that WE are standing in the ranks of the virtuous, and the politically corrupt people are making their exit. And from this vantage point, we're keeping our eye on you.

It doesn't mean a literal good bye to the institution of NTID. It means good bye to the corrupt philosophy that is now inhibiting it.

If you think you're smarter and can win a rhetorical fisticuffs, then you better think again. Your time is up. Good bye.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous....You apparently don't know the meaning of "good bye". It means that WE are standing in the ranks of the virtuous, and the politically corrupt people are making their exit. And from this vantage point, we're keeping our eye on you.

It doesn't mean a literal good bye to the institution of NTID. It means good bye to the corrupt philosophy that is now inhibiting it.

If you think you're smarter and can win a round of rhetorical fisticuffs, then you better think again. Your time is up. Good bye.

Anonymous said...

We are very proud of you for your hard work to remove this name from the dorm at NTID. Let us know what we can do to help. You have many, many people on your side.

Joseph Pietro Riolo said...

I am commenting on the paragraph about the rule of majority as used by the U.S. Supreme Court to decide the cases. I want to mention that the rule of majority is not the only way to decide an issue. The U.S. Constitution uses different ways to decide an issue. To override the president's veto on a bill, two thirds of each house of Congress is required. Also, two third of each house of Congress is required to propose an amendment to the constitution. Then, three quarters of states is required to ratify the amendment.

Robert's Rules of Order recognizes two-thirds vote as a valid way to decide a motion. It lists the motions that require two-thirds vote in order for them to be adopted.

The main reason for the higher percentages is to protect the rights of minority and individual members. This has nothing to do with supporting the minorities as claimed in the draft letter. The higher percentage is designed to prevent the majority from steamrolling the rights and voices of the minorities. Robert's Rules of Order said that two-third vote is a compromise between the will of a group and the rights of individual members.

The mention of the U.S. Supreme Court touched me because it reminded me of the speech that was given by Associate Justice Stephen Breyer (speech is available at In his speech, he mentioned the case Worcester v. Georgia where the Supreme Court held in favor of the Cherokees. But, the state of Georgia, who was the majority (517,000 people vs. 17,000 Cherokees), refused to abide by the court's decision. The result was that the Cherokees were forced to leave and they traveled the Trail of Tears. It just reminds me of the majority who was not willing to abide by the decision made by the committee during 1970's and Dr. Hurwitz's decision. However, the analogy is weak and has several problems that I am not going to elaborate in this already long comment.

From the mathematical point of view, the majority as used by the U.S. Supreme Court is much more than what it seems to be. When a case is presented to the court, this is the third time that the case has to go through deliberative process. In some criminal trials, the trial goes through the first deliberative process where a jury has to decide on a verdict. Usually, the jury has to reach full consensus to make a verdict. Let's say that there are 12 members in the jury. When the jury returns the guilty verdict on the defendant, it means that there are 12 members against him, 12-0. The case is then appealed to the next higher court that consists of three judges. This is the second time that the case goes through the deliberative process. Let's say that two judges affirms the verdict while the third judge dissents with the decision. This brings the total to 14-1. The case is appealed to the Supreme Court who decides to accept it. This is the third deliberative process. Let's say that the five justices of the court decide to affirm the decision of the appeals court while the four justices dissent with the decision. The final total is 19-5. When it is converted to percentage, it means at least 79.17% of 24 individuals (12 members in jury, 3 judges at appeals court, 9 justices at Supreme Court) is required to affirm the verdict that is given at the trial. That is a lot more than the simple majority. The decision made by the Supreme Court is not an isolated event. It is the cumulative event that starts with the full consensus of the jury.

There are many more scenarios that give an interesting range of different percentages but I am not going to cover all of them. My point here is that the system of the U.S. Constitution, the judicial system and the system of Robert's Rules of Order are all designed with the minorities in mind. The delicate balance between majority and minorities in these systems apparently is not appreciated by the leaders of the coalition.

Joseph Pietro Riolo

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

Parpar said...

We've seen several suggestions for renaming Tower C. Others have already suggested Clerc, Davila, and Weitbrecht.I have some suggestions that I can't wait to share.

* Warren Robinson (1859-1921), a technical-vocational teacher and expert who taught at his alma mater, Wisconsin School for the Deaf, and whose advocacy of postsecondary technical education of deaf students predated Peter N. Peterson's proposal by some 20 years.

* William Castle. He was director of NTID for a long time, yet no building or room honors him. Yes, I'm perfectly well aware that he had an oralist background, was AGBAD president, and may have been a prime mover behind the A.G. Bell plaque. But he learned to sign, was a dynamic leader, and kept NTID in the spotlight. He was a skilled lobbyist. Also a connoisseur of Deaf art. And he loved NTID. Dr. Frisina has that quad named after him. Dr. Castle . . . nothing?

* Loy Golladay and Alice Beardsley were two of NTID's fist Deaf faculty members; the third, Robert F. Panara, has the theater named after him.

* Annie Jump Cannon (1863-1941), astronomer. She was associated with Harvard College Observatory, but as an example of a deaf woman who had a successful scientific career, made noteworthy discoveries, and encouraged other women to enter the field of astronomy, she's a great inspiration.

* George T. Dougherty (1860-1938), a Deaf metallurgist who also advocated for wider tech-ed opportunities for deaf students, and encouraged them to enter scientific fields. Actively involved in Deaf Community affairs, he helped found the NAD.

There are many more possibilities, but these are a few that come to mind.

(Most of these eminents are included in Harry G. Lang's "Deaf Persons in the Arts and Sciences: a Biographical Dictionary.")

Sherlock Steve said...

To the Orange and Brown Coalitation:

Don't be in such a rush to resolve the controversey of the A.G.Bell Dorm situation. If you think that this controversey would servely impact on the NTID 40th Reunion, then you are already too late.

We, the alumni, need to weigh in with our opinions about the A.G. Bell dorm. It should be our right to have a discussion workshop of why or why not the A. G. Bell name should be removed or not. Alan Hurwitz needs to hear from the alumni as well as you do.

Heck, even RIT President Destiler needs to be involved too on this. So don't rush, just wait till after the reunion. When all have been said and done, I believe all of us will make an intellegent decision.

Thank you.
Steve Baier
The Deaf Sherlock.

Anonymous said...

agreed re: rush

the position statement was written before the decision to reconsider was announced.

O&B which represents NTID/RIT students, staff, faculty, alumni, and friends is very pleased that broader input from these groups is being considered in the decision making process. We look forward to members of our community sharing their input at the June 4th meeting, the alumni reunion and via emails to Dr. Hurwitz and Dr. Destler. If you would like to cc O&B we will then repost them in this site.
re: voting and % - the popular vote and electoral colleges are determined by the majority vote (over 51%) and not by a 2/3 or 3/4 vote

AG Bell Working Group was not a group of elected officials nor did it have a constitution or by laws to abide by nor did it wield any tangible systematic power

it was simply a group of people appointed by NTID's president to deliberate on an important issue and to make recommendations to him.

If the vote question had been worded: All in favor of keeping the name AG Bell on our dorm - and the vote was 6 Yes and 8 No - this is not a 2/3 vote to keep or even a majority vote to keep.

The vote was simply a polling of where folks stood on the issue - how many in favor or keeping and how many in favor of removing

it was not presented as a bill or an amendment to be ratified etc.
The dialogue on the subject of whether or not NTID/RIT should have a dorm in AG Bell's honor or not is a much needed one.

Alternative names for the dorm are welcome

Reasons to support or oppose honoring Bell on our campus are needed

in terms of other buildings being renamed - it happens all over the country when folks learn that it is inappropriate or offensive to have a name honoring such a person, it is removed. This change creates friction. many folks have invested in the status quo and the notion of change is upsetting.

MLK jr said peace is not the absence of tension but rather the presence of justice



Anonymous said...

Seriously, please get a real life. As a Deaf person, I already learn how to work with hearing people and appreciate what we have with various deaf people in our life. Your group are bothering NTID administrators who need to focus on many other important assignments that actually help our future deaf people. It would be more reasonable and wise action if you make a REAL recommendation that truly helps many other deaf people, not just a name of a building that is already isolated from NTID community for a long time!

Get a life,
NTID alumni 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.

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