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Passing of Professor Emeritus Dr. John S. Schuchman

Passing of Professor Emeritus Dr. John S. Schuchman

Dear Campus Community,

It is with great sadness that I inform the University community of the passing of Dr. John S. Schuchman, Professor Emeritus. In his 34 years at Gallaudet, Dr. Schuchman served as a faculty member in the Department of History, Dean of the College, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Provost. He passed away on Tuesday, December 19 at age 79, in Ashburn, Virginia, with his wife, Dr. Betty J. “BJ” Schuchman, at his side.

John Stanley “Stan” Schuchman was born on November 12, 1938 in Indianapolis, Indiana, to the late Harry and Florence Schuchman. A hearing child of deaf adults, he was a native user of American Sign Language. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Butler University in 1961, and his Master of Science degree and Doctor of Philosophy degrees from Indiana University in 1963 and 1969, respectively. He also earned the degree of Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center in 1968. In 1967, while at Georgetown, he traveled from Northwest Washington, D.C. to the Northeast quadrant of the city to visit Gallaudet’s campus and seek employment. He was hired that very day as a faculty member in the Department of History, beginning his long association with the University.

Between 1970 and 1985, Dr. Schuchman served as Dean of the College, Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Provost. In 1985, he returned to his first love, teaching. He received the University’s Distinguished Faculty Award in 1991, and was a Schaefer Research Professor in 1998. After retiring in 1998, he continued to teach on a volunteer basis for two more years.

Dr. Schuchman was a scholar as well as a teacher. Two of his primary research interests were oral history, including the experiences of deaf people in the Holocaust, and deaf characters in film. In 1991, he co-led the first international conference on deaf history. He was a past president of Oral History in the Mid-Atlantic Region, and edited a widely respected regional newsletter on oral history.

In researching the experiences of deaf Holocaust survivors, Dr. Schuchman conducted narrative history interviews, adding to the historical record in the native language of people with first-hand knowledge. He brought to these interviews, many with Jewish Hungarians, an understanding of cultural identity and the unique role one’s school holds in the deaf community. In 1998, Gallaudet and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum co-hosted a conference, Deaf People in Hitler’s Europe, 1933-1945. Dr. Schuchman and the late Dr. Donna F. Ryan co-edited a book by the same title that has become a seminal text in Holocaust studies.

Dr. Schuchman’s familial and community connections influenced his research on deaf characters in film. In an interview for the 2007 Through Deaf Eyes documentary, he talked about the connection between family and film: “When I was a kid growing up, my parents had many deaf friends. They had an active schedule. We went to picnics; we went to deaf clubs. We went to people’s homes for card games. It was a natural community for me as a kid growing up. It was like a kid who grew up in an immigrant family that spoke a different language than the majority. So, instead of my family speaking Italian, our family spoke sign. That concept of a normal community with a life like any other minority group in the United States was just completely missing in films.”

His response was to study the history of film and publish a groundbreaking book, Hollywood Speaks: Deafness and the Film Entertainment Industry, which traces deaf characters and actors from the silent film era through 1986 when Children of a Lesser God was released. Hollywood Speaks shed light on the injustice of denying deaf actors roles for which they are uniquely qualified, and describes the ways Hollywood overlooked a cultural community while producing films that perpetuated stereotypes about deaf people. Today, this book is as timely as when it was published.

Dr. Schuchman is remembered as a dedicated, caring, and demanding professor and an equally resolute administrator who was staunchly committed to students and their success. During his 15 years as an administrator, the University broadened its course offerings, saw a steady growth in enrollment, and increased its research in demographics, American Sign Language linguistics, and best practices in deaf education. Several academic programs received their initial accreditation under his leadership.

Student success drove Dr. Schuchman’s every decision. In particular, he saw ease of visual communication as integral to student learning. While serving as Dean of the College, he mandated early on that all faculty meet minimum standards of sign language proficiency. In particular, he instituted a plan that made it possible for students to give meal tickets to faculty, inviting them to the dining hall for outside-of-class discussions. He himself took dinner in the dining hall each Wednesday so that he was available to students beyond standard office hours.

Always an advocate, Dr. Schuchman participated in nationwide efforts to increase communication access for deaf and hard of hearing people. When the Federal Communications Commission installed its first teletypewriter (TTY), he was their inaugural caller. He praised the Commission for installing the device, but took the opportunity to point out inequities for deaf people, stating, “For too long, federal agencies have been inaccessible.”

Provost Carol J. Erting joined the University faculty midway through Dr. Schuchman’s tenure as Vice President of Academic Affairs. She said, “Gallaudet is a University that has always been dedicated to producing new knowledge. Stan Schuchman was an exemplar in terms of setting that research standard.” Dr. Brian H. Greenwald, ’96, professor of history and director of the Drs. John S. and Betty J. Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center, said, “Stan’s meticulous and pioneering work inspired Deaf historians and expanded the reach of the field of Deaf history.” Added Dr. William T. Ennis III, ’01, assistant professor of history, “I had the great fortune to spend three weeks traveling through Europe with Stan and BJ, learning about the tenuous plight of deaf people under the Nazi regime. It was an exceptional learning opportunity because Stan was a recognized expert on the topic. More significantly, he was generous with that expertise–sharing it with anyone who wanted to learn.”

In retirement, Dr. Schuchman remained active in the deaf and academic communities. He was a member of the Board of Visitors at the College of Communication at Butler University, his undergraduate alma mater.

Dr. Schuchman and BJ, his wife of 52 years, have been exceptionally generous in their support of Gallaudet University. In 2014, they established a Deaf History Award to encourage new research on the lives and experiences of deaf people and their communities. This award is given in recognition of significant historical scholarship. Two years later, they created an endowed fund to enable documentary work on deaf life. Today, the Drs. John S. and Betty J. Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center is a humanities-based research unit whose mission is to teach, do, and share documentary work. When asked why he supports documentation of deaf stories, Dr. Stan Schuchman answered simply, “because the work needs to continue.” Adding the social justice component of the work, he explained, “BJ and I established this endowment out of great affection for Gallaudet and the wider Deaf community. Documenting and sharing Deaf stories can challenge discrimination and change attitudes.”

A celebration of the life of Dr. John S. Schuchman will be held on Tuesday, January 30, 2018 from 12 to 2 p.m. in Peikoff Alumni House. All are welcome at this time of remembrance. Donations in Dr. Schuchman’s memory may be made to the Drs. John S. and Betty J. Schuchman Deaf Documentary Center at Gallaudet University or the fund of your choice.

Stan Schuchman was a mighty advocate for deaf students, deaf actors, deaf historians, deaf professors, and deaf leaders. He saw how history can enlighten, and how documentary work can challenge injustice. At Gallaudet, we shall carry on his work. Please join me in sending our heartfelt condolences to BJ, and to Stan’s many friends and colleagues the world over.

Sincerely,

Roberta J. Cordano
President

Photo of Dr. Schuchman courtesy of Butler University
Posted by B Mutisya Nzyuko | Posted December 22, 2017 at 11:49 AM

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Gallaudet

800 Florida Avenue NE
Washington, DC 20002