Thursday, October 26, 2006

Cogswell Staff Reflects On the Murders and Dr. Jane K. Fernandes' Leadership Style from 2000-2001

26 October 2006
Mr. Craig Plunkett
Portland, Oregon

Dear Mr. Plunkett:

We are the former residence hall staff members at Cogswell Hall where your son, Eric, was found murdered in his room. We have not had a chance to really know you and your family. We truly wish that we have had the opportunity to know each other. Perhaps one day we will meet face-to-face.

When we recall our experience together as a team, we talk about what we went through with both homicides. Like you and your family, we will never forget what we went through. It was what you will call an emotional rollercoaster. In a sense, that emotional rollercoaster bonded us even more than many may think. And the fact that we were directly involved with this gives us the right to talk about it among ourselves.

Let us reiterate this once again: no one will ever understand what we all went through unless one has experienced it.

We read your letter in the Washington Post endorsing Jane Fernandes as the ninth President of Gallaudet University. While we respect your right to endorse Dr. Fernandes, we strongly feel that we need to set the record straight here pertaining to how we, as a collective group, were treated by Dr. Fernandes and her administration.

We have not spoken out because there has been no reason to bring in the deaths of Eric and Benjamin Varner into the picture. But since this door has opened by you or by the university/Jane Fernandes, we are speaking out now to set the record straight. It is a door that we truly never wished to have seen opened in the first place.

First of all, we are very concerned that you may not have listened to the other side. It is safe to assume, based on an excerpt of your letter, that you may have been misled by the University administration:

As far as I can tell, a very small group -- maybe 10 percent -- of the current student body seems to despise president-designate Fernandes. These students generally have no clue what it takes to run a university or how a university president is chosen.

Ninety percent of the student body understands that the most important thing in their young lives is education. Ten percent of the students are disrupting the educational process for the 90 percent who get it. Twenty years from now these students will not care one who was president of Gallaudet during their time on campus.

Last spring, 81% of the student body voted in a poll within a span of two academic days indicating that they do not support Jane Fernandes. At the same time, 66% of the University Faculty voted no-confidence in Jane Fernandes as the president-designate. 79% of the teachers at the Clerc Center do not accept Jane Fernandes as the next president.

And last week, 82% of the University Faculty voted no-confidence in Jane Fernandes and demanded her resignation and we have seen protesters continue their fight.

We have to ask you these questions:

Does it make any sense if these protesters continue to protest if they didn’t have a clue in the first place? Did you know that these protesters are the cream of crop at Gallaudet? We see honor students, student government leaders, Greek organization members, student organization members, and so on. Why would they risk their reputations, their integrity, and their sanity if they felt Jane Fernandes was NOT the right choice? Why would they risk being arrested for a cause they believe in?

We also have the Alumni Association, the National Association for the Deaf, and the California Coalition of Agencies for the Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing, along with other national organizations decrying the tactics of fear, intimidation, and the use of the “deaf card.” Why would they risk their reputations or their integrities?

And why would the University Faculty risk their reputations and integrities in passing a vote of no-confidence for Jane Fernandes, I. King Jordan, and the Board of Trustees? Why would a lot of alumni send in letters of support for the protesters risk their reputations?

The way we see it, this is far more than 10 percent of protesters who, according to your belief, ‘despise’ Jane Fernandes. And no, we don’t see them as despising Jane Fernandes. We see them protesting against ineffective leadership by someone who has proven that once too many times.

Like we said earlier, your endorsement is your choice, but we need to share with you how we, as a collective, were treated by Jane Fernandes in the aftermath of Eric’s death. We know that this may be painful for you to read but it is equally painful for us to talk about it, especially to the family of our resident. We feel strongly that you deserve an explanation direct from those who saw the fury of Jane Fernandes and lived through it.

We will grant your contention that she gave your family the support you needed, we are giving you a more accurate picture about her support to us as a collective group.

For starters, she did not reach out to the Cogswell staff. She simply sent her direct reports to handle that. If she truly cared, she would have reached out to us in addition to her direct reports.

We remember the night very well when Eric was found in his room and this is our painful story, six years later, and it is being told to explain why Jane Fernandes is unfit to lead Gallaudet University.

We remember seeing our Coordinator of Residence Education (CRE), Karl Ewan tell us that there has been a death in the residence hall. We remember listening to him tell us about how Eric was found by two of us, Thomas Koch and Lauren Buchko, and verified by Karl and another CRE, Evon Black along with Gallaudet security officers. We remember seeing Amanda Hilleque fight back tears. We remember Evon vomiting outside of the residence hall and being consoled by security officers after being told by security officers to re-verify once again. We remember Billy Kekua being shocked. We remember Cookie Brand visibly upset. We remember Thomas freaking out because he found Eric and had to drag Karl to the room. We remember Karl being confused with Thomas’ demeanor because he did not tell Karl what was behind the door until he opened the door and saw a grisly scene. We remember our Graduate Assistant (GA) Rory Osbrink having to cut his evening with his father short and stepping up to the plate. We remember Scott Pfaff have that look of disbelief on his face. We remember Lauren consoling Thomas and being upset. We remember Jin-Kyoung Kim’s look of horror because it happened on the floor below her and her worry about how her residents would be reacting. And most of all, we remember seeing our residents’ shocked faces when they saw Eric’s body be transported out of Cogswell by EMTs and Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) forensic technicians.

Fernandes was nowhere to be seen nor did she attempt to reach out to us.

We remember Christopher Soukup, the Student Body Government President, coming down to Cogswell and ask us what was going on. We remember Rory telling Chris that a body has been found in a room. We remember seeing Chris’ shocked face because no one from the administration, including Fernandes, ever alerted him about it. Rory got in touch with Chris and told him to go to Cogswell.

We remember seeing Billy, Thomas, Lauren, Amanda, and some residents transported to MPD’s 5th District (5-D) station to be interviewed. We remember seeing a task force of MPD officers, FBI agents, and Secret Service agents confirming to Chris, Rory, and Karl that it was now a homicide investigation in the Resident Advisor office.

We remember seeing Karl tell us that he had to go over to 5-D because some of his staff and residents were freaking out at the station. We remember seeing Joseph Mesa being interviewed by the detectives as well. We remember how glad we were to see Karl come in and reassure us that all would be OK. We remember being told by the police officers after watching the early morning news that it was a homicide. We remember the looks of horror on each other’s faces, including Mesa’s. We remember seeing Thomas start to blame himself for his failure as a Resident Advisor.

Fernandes did not come over to 5-D and reassure us. Only Karl came over on his own accord, and we knew that he gave a damn about us. We were there at 5-D through the night until dawn.

We had a debriefing with the Mental Health Center at the Gallaudet Kellogg Conference Center (KCC) with the staff of Krug Hall, we made sure that our residence halls were staffed so we all could go together and talk about what happened and how we felt. That debriefing was moderated by the late Dr. Barbara Brauer and Ms. Kendra Smith. We were making progress and halfway through the meeting, a Gallaudet security officer barged into the room we were in and said that Fernandes wanted to meet with us. Dr. Brauer objected to the interruption and the security officer insisted once again. So we left the KCC and walked to our residence halls. Dr. Brauer and Ms. Smith came with us. When we arrived, we were told that the meeting was cancelled. Dr. Brauer and Karl were very furious because the meeting was productive and for it to be interrupted with the premise of an important meeting with Fernandes then to have it cancelled definitely reeks of insensitivity for us as a collective. And we were equally furious.

No efforts were made by Fernandes to reach out and explain why she cancelled the meeting. No efforts were made by her for further debriefing. We did not feel good about the meeting because we were treated poorly by Fernandes.

We were told that we must man the residence hall 24/7. “Check the IDs,” “No visitors allowed,”“We need someone to cover this shift,” “We need this and that to be taken care of,” and so on without any clear explanations. It was chaotic for each one of us and stressful. Some of us wanted to walk out because we were not getting the support we needed. Karl and Rory made sure that we were given the support we needed. For that, we are thankful for them. The support we received from them enabled us to bond even stronger and that nothing would stop us from giving up.

Not once did Fernandes ever call a meeting to ask us this:

“How are you doing?”

She was distant and solely depended on her direct reports. We are giving credit where it is truly due to the following individuals: Dwight Benedict, Susan Hanrahan, and Carl Pramuk for being there as much as possible. But no one will understand what we went through together and they and no one else ever will until they experience it. And that is an experience we do not wish upon anyone else.

At our Christmas gathering at a Hop’s Brewery in Alexandria, Virginia, we looked at each other in amazement … we went through hell ourselves. And we told each other how we felt and toasted to each other and to the memory of Eric. Not one of us ever had a glowing word about Fernandes because she was not there for us nor did she attempt to reach out to us personally.

We had no idea that the terror was not over for us and our residents …

Let us fast forward to February 2001, Benjamin Varner was found murdered in his room on the 4th floor. Scott Pfaff found Benjamin’s body as part of a routine check during a fire alarm. When he found it, he went over to the railing and asked Karl to please come up. It was about 4 a.m. when Ben was found. We remember seeing Scott looking freaked out. We remember Joseph Kolcun, another Resident Advisor from Benson Hall, going up to support Scott and seeing Benjamin’s body as well. We remember seeing Karl run up and return back to the railing and seeing him enter Rory’s 4th floor apartment and wake him up. We remember seeing Rory go to Scott and Joseph to make sure they are all right and seeing Benjamin’s body.

We remember Karl coming down and asking us where Thomas was. When we responded to him that he was at his girlfriend’s room in another residence hall, he was relieved and told us not to contact Thomas nor let him in the residence hall.

We remember Karl’s look when he told us that it was another body and it might be Benjamin’s. We remember seeing the shock and hurt on our faces. The feelings of “oh, no … not again” resurfaced. We remember the lessons learned from Eric’s death and started to mobilize empty rooms on the first floor for crisis counseling. We remember seeing Karl get on the phone and call security to come over immediately as the fire alarm was still ringing and to implement the emergency contact system for the university administration.

At 4:30 a.m., the residents were allowed in the building but not to their rooms. They were in the lobby. We remember a worried-looking I. King Jordan come in the building and speak with Karl. We remember seeing Bernard Holt, Director of Security and his supervisor, Fred Kendrick, affectionately known as “Preacher Fred,” come in at 4:45 a.m. We remember seeing a lot of MPD officers. We remember seeing the faces of horror on our residents when they saw EMTs come in with a gurney.

Fernandes came in approximately 9 a.m. dressed in a bright red dress. We were wondering why it took her five hours to come in. We remember seeing her go right up to the second floor without asking how we are doing. We remember seeing a counselor come up to Karl and say, “I understand what you are going through.” We remember his reaction when the counselor responded negatively to Karl’s question on whether or not she had experienced finding a dead body. We remember Dr. Alan Marcus come to Karl and say, “Are you OK?” We remember Dr. Brauer and Dr. Allen Sussman come in and talk to us. We remember the counselors’ grateful faces when they were told that we had set up crisis counseling rooms on the first floor. We remember seeing Karl telling Preacher Fred and the other CREs not to contact Evon about what happened.

Not once did Fernandes thank us for our thinking ahead nor ask us how we were doing. We saw her be busy looking good in her red dress for her moment with the media.

We remember seeing Karl and Rory go up to the 4th floor to talk with Joseph, Amanda, and Scott. They gave a damn for them. We remember Preacher Fred talk to us. He also gave a damn as well.

Where was Fernandes? She was nowhere to be seen. Here we go again … being
insensitive to her students and to us.

We remember being moved to the upper cafeteria while Karl was trapped in his apartment. We remember Karl paging Rory to ask him to find out why he was not allowed to leave the apartment. We remember not seeing Cookie because she was kept isolated for eight hours without any food nor an understanding why she was kept isolated in the first place. We remember Rory asking Fernandes that there are 100+ residents in the upper cafeteria and they are hungry and being told by her that she will take care of it. We remember three hours passing by when Rory went downstairs to the cafeteria manager to explain about the situation. We remember Rory coming back up and assure the residents that they can get something to eat downstairs and approaching Fernandes about why she has not done anything and seeing her response:

“I forgot all about it.”

100+ terrified students were hungry and Fernandes forgot about them! They were herded from Cogswell by the MPD and not allowed to go outside on their own. We remember seeing her in the cafeteria and she forgot! We remember consoling our residents who kept on asking us what was going to happen to them or when would they be leaving. We remember Rory’s relieved face when he was told that Dwight managed to get Karl out of his apartment. We remember seeing Karl come to the cafeteria to check on us and his residents. We remember seeing Joseph break down and accompany us in solidarity because he understood what we went through together. We remember supporting Joseph with his experience. Although he was never part of the residence hall staff, we consider him one of us.

Not once did Fernandes console Joseph on his experience.

We remember the anguish in seeing our group split up and reassigned to other residence halls because Cogswell was declared a crime scene by MPD. We remember the sadness on Karl’s face when he told us that we were to split up. We remember sitting in one empty room with Dr. Frank Ziezula, an expert on death and dying … an opportunity to heal denied once again because we were split up without anyone talking to us first on how we felt. We remember Dr. Ziezula lead the discussion on how we felt. We didn’t really heal because we were told about the split up. Granted, splitting us up was probably an appropriate decision but splitting us up without talking about it first was wrong.

And there is one moment that we cannot forget: Karl telling us that he broke down with Dwight about what was happening and saying that he was ready to walk away from this. We remember persuading Karl not to walk away and we were grateful to learn that it was Dwight who truly talked him out of walking away. We saw a side of him that we never saw before. He was not just the person whom we enjoyed working with very much. He was in the same boat as we were in. We stuck together as a team and nothing would stop us. Even a camping trip for us was frowned on by Fernandes because the university was lacking the manpower to supervise the residence halls. That hurt us because we were denied the opportunity to heal twice by Fernandes. But thankfully, we had the opportunity to go on our camping trip so we could begin the healing process.

You say that although these students were not there when Eric and Ben were murdered and they would not tolerate a demonstration. We will agree with you that would be true because everyone was shell-shocked that it happened at Gallaudet. If there were demonstrations against Jane back then, it would be insensitive and a grave insult to both families and to the memories for the both of them. However, for us to read your letter in the Washington Post, we saw the necessity to step in and set the record straight here.

How can she lead if she forgot all about 100+ hungry and terrified students after a second homicide and neglect the residence hall staff that had to endure two homicides in a span of eight months? To us, that is called ineffective leadership in a crisis and it speaks volumes about the future, especially her current leadership in this crisis.

Jane Fernandes called the protesters terrorists, dissenters, and anarchists. If she uses such strong language to describe the protesters, then she is calling us terrorists, dissenters, and anarchists because we are making a statement based on what we went through with her.

Craig, you know what the strangest thing for us is especially after being treated like this by Fernandes? We don’t even hate her. We don’t despise her. Why would we? Hate and despise are strong words. “What do we feel?” you will ask …

We feel sadness for who she is and what kind of leader she is. We are strong believers of karma – what goes around comes around. The protests, the no-confidence votes by the University Faculty, her autocratic leadership style, and her continued dismissive arrogance are part of her karma for whatever fury she unleashed unto our august institution. She is as deaf as we are. So it’s not about her “not deaf enough.” It’s about her leadership style … her autocratic leadership style.

We can say that we have not forgotten what we went through as a team although we have moved on in our lives and no longer have an association with the institution other than being members of the Alumni Association with the exception of Joseph who is employed by the institution.

Are we healed? We cannot answer that question ourselves as a collective … only individuals can answer that. We want you to know that the resignation of Jane Fernandes will certainly speed up the healing process.

We sincerely hope that this picture has been made clearer for you and your family about what really happened.

We wish you and your family well and we hope one day our paths will cross in better circumstances.


The Cogswell Hall Staff – 2000-2001 Academic Year

Karl Ewan – CRE
Thomas Koch – 1st Floor RA
Keith Clark – 2nd Floor RA
Scott Pfaff – 3rd Floor RA
Billy Kekua – 4th Floor RA
Rory Osbrink – GA
Cookie (Brand) Roang – 1st Floor RA
Jin-Kyoung Kim – 2nd Floor RA
Lauren (Buchko) Huseby – 3rd Floor RA
Amanda Hilleque – 4th Floor RA
Joseph Kolcun – Benson Hall RA

cc: The Washington Post
The Buff and Blue
Jane Fernandes
The Gallaudet University FSSA Coalition


Blogger Carl Schroeder said...

My goodness... I got tears in my eyes when I read this whole thing. How can I thank you for such courage you've done us all. Listen, I was harshly criticized that JKF was nowhere involved in this Mesa murder mess. Now that you had came out, I felt much stronger...that JKF must go!

8:51 PM  
Blogger Carl Schroeder said...

Now that you had COME out, I thank you!

8:52 PM  
Blogger LadyLeFors said...

wow. simply wow. it left me speechless.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Heather & Stacey said...

Thanks for sharing your first hand experiences with JKF, and it tells us a lot about her leadership in a crisis. She takes too much credit and doesn't take responsibility for failures.

10:45 PM  
Blogger jenifloyd said...

me signless. warm goosebumps. teary eyes. wow.

11:16 PM  
Blogger jenifloyd said...

me signless. warm goosebumps. teary eyes. wow.

11:17 PM  
Blogger Patty said...

How devastating and heartbreaking it must have been for all of you during those dark days!

Thank you all so much for's going to help people finally understand the true story concerning JKF's leadership.

God bless you all!

11:55 PM  
Blogger mngals said...

what a sad situation for you staff went thru while it happened ! God Bless you for being brave to send out and explain it

7:58 AM  
Blogger Patty said...

God bless you all for what JKF made you go through. I can imagine that even though the experiences were truly traumatic but because of the support you all were able to give each other along with several other people giving you support, it has made you all a stronger and a better person for it.

There's tears in my eyes after reading that powerful email.

jkf and ikj seriously have to go. I'm using lower caps for both to indicate the lack of respect I have for both.

10:34 AM  
Blogger Lynn said...

OMG...I cannot believe you expected a provost to come hold your hand. The provost's job is of academic affairs not dorm counselor. I'm sure if you had checked a bit you would have found that JKF had media responsibilities as well as academic responsibilities with regards to the killings. By your own admission in the letter you describe how she wanted to meet with you and you refused and then she called the meeting off...what more do you want?

This is the real world...wake up!

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lynn: This letter is in response to the letter from the Plunketts. The Plunkett family claimed (presumably based on what JKF told them) that Fernandes DID spend a great deal of time in the student dorms talking personally with students in the aftermath of the murders to reassure them in person.

The Cogswell staff do not say in this letter that they had expected for Fernandes to "hold their hands." Their point is to clarify to the Plunkett family that Fernandes did not do what she apparently claimed to have done. The Plunkett family believes she spent many long nights in the dorm comforting students in person. The Cogswell staff are presenting their story in order to contradict that claim.

9:04 PM  

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