“The first thing that we did was organized a rally,” said Katie Hosmer, a junior majoring in deaf education at MSU.
Since their first rally last December, program supporters have used numerous tactics to protest ending the major – attending multiple Board of Trustees meetings, giving speeches and holding signs in silent protest. However, the administration has not changed its position, and the program is still slated to end.
“We have a lot of supporters, people come out and say they’re supporting us, but no changes,” said Katie Sweers, a sophomore in deaf education.
Concerns about how closing deaf education will impact the deaf community has spurred the protests.
“We’re definitely concerned about the future,” said Scot Pott, president of the Michigan Deaf Association. “Five years from now, as more deaf educators retire, where will their replacements come from? There’s definitely going to be a shortage of deaf teachers here.”
MSU administrators apparently disagree. Officials have stated that there is no longer a shortage of educators in the field in Michigan, citing this as one of the reasons behind the closure.
Deaf education is also offered at Eastern Michigan University, but there are distinct differences between the two programs.
Eastern Michigan uses an auditory-oral approach to teach children, teaching students to use spoken language. Michigan State’s program places a stronger focus on American Sign Language, taking a bilingual approach to teaching students.
“There are two distinct philosophies to teaching a deaf child,” said Hosmer. “Whether they’re successful with the oral approach or the bilingual approach depends on each and every different child. Just because a child is deaf and standing next to another deaf child doesn’t mean that they can both have the same ability.”
The loss of Michigan State’s bilingual program could also have a negative effect on other deaf education programs throughout the state, which could potentially lower the available education options for deaf children.
“Your bilingual programs would be more likely in a school for the deaf. Oral programs would be implemented possibly in public school,” said Sweers. “It depends, too, on where the parents want their child. They should have the option.”
Questions of why the major is being closed have run rampant from the beginning.
“We had no idea really why any of it was happening,” said Hosmer. “They were really vague. They didn’t want to give us any definite answers.”
The university has stated that the program is being recommended for closure, in part, due to low demand, low enrollment and the costs associated with offering sign language courses.
Hosmer adamantly disagrees. “There always will be low enrollment in the deaf education program because there are a lot less deaf children than hearing children,” she said. “Anybody who has a deaf education program is not going to have a ton of students in the program, that’s just how it is. But that doesn’t go for ASL [American Sign Language].”
American Sign Language, typically a popular course at MSU with more than 400 students enrolled annually, is also being recommended for closure.
“They’ve got overflowing lists of students. It’s a really popular foreign language on campus, people love taking it,” said Hosmer. “There’s no reasoning behind it whatsoever.”
MSU officials have stated that American Sign Language is not considered a language. However, many proponents of deaf education, including the Linguistic Society of America, have publicly disagreed with that statement.
“The program that was at MSU was a very good program,” said Pott. â€œI would say that [closing it] will lead to deaf children having a great lag in their education. Children who are learning disabled or who have difficulties in their signing will be delayed in their education and upbringing, as adults they’ll also be more likely to live on welfare if they haven’t received efficient education, they wonâ€™t be citizens functioning like you and I.”