rving King Jordan was born in 1943. He grew up in Glen Riddle Pennsylvania, a rural townnear Philadelphia, with his 3 brothers and sisters. They had an idyllic childhood playing in the beautiful outdoors, and even sang in the church choir at the local Episcopal church. In High School, King described himself as a “very… average student.” He refused to study and graduated in 5 years instead of the usual four. After High School, King joined the Navy, working on the Aircraft Carrier Enterprise. He was eventually promoted to Administrative Assistant to the ship’s Legal Officer when the hearing part of his life came to an end.
21 year old King was in a serious motorcycle accident that left him profoundly deaf. When he woke up in the hospital, doctors originally told him that his hearing loss would be temporary. He clung to this notion for several months before deciding to move on with his new life as a deaf person.
In the Navy, King had seen how important Education was in establishing a career. Many people had been promoted almost instantly to officer positions with no other experience than a college degree. King decided to go back to school, and entered Gallaudet University in 1966 knowing no Sign Language and nothing about Deaf Culture. “I was a Hearing person who couldn’t hear” King said of himself. King graduated with a BA in Psychology from Gallaudet University in 1970. He received his MA in Psychology in 1971 and his PhD in Psychology in 1973, both from the University of Tennessee. King then returned to Gallaudet to teach, eventually becoming Dean of the Psychology Department.
When King learned that the current President of Gallaudet University had plans to retire, he sat down with his wife and two children and decided to actively seek the position. He was one of 3 final candidates for the position, and one of 2 deaf candidates for the position. In March of 1988, the Gallaudet Board of Directors fatefully announced that they had appointed the only hearing candidate as President. The student’s at Gallaudet were outraged and demanded to know why the Board of Directors felt that none of the Deaf candidates were qualified to lead the University. When the Board couldn’t give them an answer, the students shut down the Gallaudet campus for a week. Busses were parked at the gates of Gallaudet, their tires flattened, so vehicles could neither get in nor out. Thousands of groups, Deaf and Hearing alike, rallied to the cause. They gathered in droves on the campus chanting “Deaf President Now.” When the Board saw how many people were against them, they caved in to all the student demands. On March 13, 1988 I. King Jordan was elected as the first deaf President of Gallaudet University.
At first, many people had doubts about how well King could do the job. They thought that his need to use an interpreter would interfere with his ability to communicate, especially with the members of Congress who determine Gallaudet’s funding. It quickly became apparent that this was not the case. Under King’s leadership, Gallaudet saw a huge jump in funding. He provided many services to the campus such as adding raised platforms to classrooms so students can see their professor lecture, and using technology to help students communicate better. “Learning Calculus should be hard.” King once told a reporter, “Understanding what your professor is saying shouldn’t be hard.”
King retired as President from Gallaudet in 2006. Ironically, the Board of Director’s choice of his successor garnered controversy similar to that of 1988. King gained much criticism from the Deaf Community when he put his full support behind the Board’s choice and arrested students protesting on campus.
Currently, King and his wife Linda live in West River Maryland, where King likes to go running every morning. He celebrates the day of his motorcycle accident as his “Deaf Birthday”, and lectures all over the world about his experiences as Gallaudet’s first Deaf President. His most famous quote is probably: “Deaf people can do anything hearing people can do, except hear.”