Does Congressman Tom Cole Reflect Gallaudet’s Current Values?

By Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman

Edited 10:03 AM 5/5/2019: The Deaf Report erroneously labeled Congressman Tom Cole as a Senator, he is a Representative for the House of Representatives.

Gallaudet University is currently a host to around 1,500 students within the community who are actively seeking bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in their specializations since the late 1800s. The campus historically hosts a commencement ceremony every May. An honored speaker from various walks of life is invited to speak, whether it be Congress, Hollywood or other varied fields. The speakers for the commencement ceremony also have included one student from each, bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, they have to have met a certain criteria as set forth by the Faculty and Student Affairs Committee. There is an administrative committee that also works to determine the honorable speaker for the year to be presented at Gallaudet University.

This year, Gallaudet University announced that they invited Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) from the House of Representatives to be the honorable speaker at the 149th Commencement Ceremony. During the forum hosted by President Cordano, there were several key issues that were presented by the student body.

The announcement has not fared well with Gallaudet and the community at large. President Cordano decided to host a forum for the entire campus bringing the feedback on Congressman Tom Cole’s position as the honorable speaker at the commencement ceremony into the open for her to see.

Karol Easton, a student who attended the forum shared with the Deaf Report that, “many students are anguished about President Cordano’s announcement, with emphasis that Representative Tom Cole does not reflect many graduating students’ identities- namely Women, LGBTQIA+, Transgender, and Immigrant. Not only that, everyone was told at the beginning of the forum that William Ennis, the Chairperson of Faculty-Student Affairs, explained to us [at the forum] that President Cordano will be only listening with limited capability to respond back to many students’ comments. The drawback caused some students to point out the forum is intended to be a formal discussion between the significant person and stated issue at hand.”

A forum is created as “a public meeting place for open discussion; a public meeting or lecture involving audience discussion” (Source: Definition)

(Source:  Senator Tom Cole )

According to, Congressman Cole is sponsoring 2019-2020 legislation on the following bills:

H.R. 1401: Bipartisan Social Security Commission Act of 2019

H.R. 375: Amend June 18, 1934- affirming the Secretary of Interior to take land into act for the Indians and other purposes

H.R. 290: reduce Federal spending and the deficit by terminating taxpayer financing of presidential campaigns

H.R. 289: Bipartisan Social Security Commission Act of 2019

H.R. 288: Arbuckle Project Maintenance Complex and District Office Conveyance Act of 2019

H.Res 29: Condemning White Supremacist Terrorism and Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric that Inspires Resolution

H.Amdt.58: restoring provision in law that bars government contractors from disclosing campaign contributions as part of the bidding process

(Source: 2019-2020 Legislations)

However, the students at Gallaudet University overwhelmingly believe that Congressman Tom Cole (R-OK) is a steadfast supporter of President Trump and his policies.

Upon review, The Deaf Report was able to pull up Congressman Tom Cole’s voting record

(source:  Voting Record)

Significant votes:

  1. H.R. 1585: Violence against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019:

This bill focused on including more tools/resources to help women to be protected by such threats- the bill added cyber-bullying and other ventures for the women will seek further protection from accusers/threats. However, the bill does not provide sexual assault service programs and sexual assault protection until 2020. The services had been slated to begin in 2018. The second amendment points out the Attorney General will be the only one who will be able to provide grants to “eligible” entities who will be providing defense programs for “women and people with disabilities” but will not be available until 2020. It is similar for the Rape Prevention and Education Grant as well. (Source: Congress bill)

  1. H.Res 124: Expressing opposition to banning service in the Armed Forces by openly transgender individuals:

Many people thought Congressman Tom Cole was against transgender individuals, but he actually is standing by Congress’s stance on allowing openly transgender individuals in the Armed Forces, stating that the Department of Defense is only one who will be able to determine a ruling on the stated position. (Source: Congress statement)

(source:  Voting Record)

Significant vote:

  1. H Res 183 (Anti-Semitism): This bill called Congress to act upon their respective people to recognize the death threats upon their Muslim and Jewish counterparts and representatives. However, the bill failed to take a such plan to encourage the public, not the public officials to draw their encouragement to “confort anti-Semitism, islamophobia, racism and other forms of biography….” (Source: Congress statement)

(Source:  Voting Record )

(Source: Voting Record)

Significant votes-

  1. H. Res 41 Rejecting white nationalism and white supremacy:

While many people thought Congressman Tom Cole supported President Trump’s actions on other issues related to White Supremacy, Congressman Tom Cole voted Yes on this bill, he supported the majority opinion that they “condemned” the actions of white supremacists. (Source: Congress text)

The big picture- the Disability issue at hand. Here is his voting record towards disabled communities:

(Source:  Voting Record )

(Source: Voting Record)

The significant vote for entire Deaf and other communities, H.R. 620, explained as how Congressman Tom Cole agreed with the majority that the ADA reforms should be done as according:

Congressman Cole agreed that the courts should comply to such loopholes within the ADA law and leave it mainly up to you the consumer. They are defined as:

a) A written notice to DEFINE the barrier… the defendants (YOU) have to find who the Owners are… along with a written plan explaining what was violated with documentation.

b) To find addresses, ada sections, assistance, and types of barriers- all responsibilities now fall upon you.

c) Once the Owners receive a judgment from the Court they are required to create a plan within 60 days…

d) same thing for any ADA barriers they have to be complied with in 60 days.

e) These changes also require the Judicial conference to resolve any accessibility issues before litigation which can delay the process substantially.

f) The disability rights department of the Department of Justice (DOJ) has to develop a program (on their time frame) that covers education for agencies on accessibility as well as a plan for how to resolve any ADA violations which does not have a set time either which could lengthen the process.

In closing, the commencement ceremony should reflect solely on the prior year’s accomplishments for the entire student and Deaf community, it should be considered a safe place for welcoming guests, families, spouses, partners, and friends. Gallaudet University has welcomed former President Bill Clinton in 1994, Gregory Hibok in 1998, Gary Malkowski in 2011, Philip Bravin in 2014, Bobbie Beth Scoggins in 2016, Glenn Anderson in 2017, and Elizabeth A. Moore in 2018.

The Deaf Report has contacted the Office of President Cordano for clarification on the selection process of Honorable Speakers for the Commencement Ceremony but has not commented at this time. The Deaf Report will publish an update to this article once a reply is received  from the Office of President Cordano.