updated 10/11/2006 8:11:19 PM ET 2006-10-12T00:11:19

Protesters at a university for deaf and hard-of-hearing students blocked entrances to the gated campus early Wednesday, escalating their protests against a president-elect they say lacks the skills needed to lead the school.

"Our leadership is flawed," said Jesse Thomas, a junior at Gallaudet University in Washington, who has been involved in protests since then-Provost Jane K. Fernandes was appointed in the spring by the school's board of trustees.

Students and some faculty feel their input was not considered in the selection process, which resulted in a choice they believe was not the best to lead America's only liberal arts university for people who are deaf and hearing impaired. Some also felt the field of candidates was not ethnically diverse.

Fernandes has said some people do not consider her "deaf enough" to be president. She was born deaf but grew up speaking and did not learn American Sign Language until she was 23.

Students began intensifying their protests last Thursday by taking over Gallaudet's main classroom building. Since then, hundreds of students have been camped out inside and around Hall Memorial Building, forcing school officials to move and cancel classes. The school has about 1,800 undergraduate and graduate students.

Beginning early Wednesday morning, the protesters blocked six entrances to the sprawling campus in northeast Washington, sitting on the paved roads inside the school's gates. While students have been allowed to come and go, faculty and staff attempting to walk or drive into the campus have not been allowed to enter.

The school has its own security force, and District of Columbia police officers at the scene said they had not been asked to intervene.

New president in January
Fernandes is scheduled in January to replace outgoing president I. King Jordan, who in 1988 became the first deaf president of Gallaudet since the school was founded by Congress in 1864.

Despite opposition to her appointment from some students and faculty, King and the trustees reaffirmed their support for appointment last Friday. The 21-member board is not scheduled to meet again until next year.

Jordan said that discussions aimed at ending the dispute have failed because protesters have not been consistent in their demands.

Leaders of the student protest have called for Fernandes' immediate resignation and for a promise that the protesters will face no reprisals from school officials.

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