updated 12/10/2006 10:48:53 PM ET 2006-12-11T03:48:53

A Gallaudet University alumnus and former professor was named interim president of the nation’s premier school for the deaf, the university announced Sunday.

The board of trustees selected Robert R. Davila, 74, to run the school for up to two years. The board rescinded the selection of former provost Jane K. Fernandes in October after protests from students and other members of the deaf community forced officials to shut down the university.

Protesters had contended that minority candidates were not given enough consideration and that Fernandes lacked the leadership skills to guide Gallaudet.

Davila, who will take over from longtime President I. King Jordan, pledged to work to improve communications between members of the university community in an effort to make Gallaudet a better place for all.

“I am no stranger to Gallaudet. I am no stranger to the deaf community,” he told students, staff and faculty at the reception, which was streamed live on the Internet with subtitles.

Davila graduated from the university in 1953 and taught there for 17 years ending in 1989, when he took a a job in the administration of President George H.W. Bush. As assistant secretary Education, he served as a key adviser for vocational rehabilitation for the disabled.

“All of us felt that pain, but now we must move forward,” said board chairwoman Pamela Holmes, who used American Sign Language to introduce Davila during a reception Sunday. She called Davila, “the right person, for the right job, at the right time.”

Ryan Commerson, one of the leaders of the student protests, was impressed with Davila.

“He said all the right stuff,” Commerson wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. “Now, all that remains is whether he will walk the talk.”

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