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Moments of Truth

Robert R. Davila: The Story of a Deaf Leader

Harry G. Lang, Oscar P. Cohen, Joseph E. Fischgrund

Publication Year: 2008

Withstanding childhood poverty in a migrant farming family and an illness in 1943 at age 11 that left him profoundly deaf, Robert R. Davila persevered to become one of the first deaf persons in history to earn a doctorate. He did so at a time when interpreting in higher education had not yet become a professional support service. Davila worked unfailingly to achieve positions of stature as vice president of Gallaudet University, the president of three major deaf education organizations, and the seeming culmination of his career as the highest appointed deaf official ever in the U.S. government at the Department of Education. Yet, after this government service, he returned to his field to achieve another series of firsts. He served as Headmaster of the New York School for the Deaf at White Plains for three years, and as the first deaf chief executive officer of the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology for seven years. Then, in 2006, Bob Davila was invited to assume the presidency of Gallaudet University in a time of crisis. Moments of Truth summarizes a series of defining experiences that enabled Davila to rise to the pinnacle of his profession as an educator. This book is not merely a roadmap on how he achieved such honors—it is an inspiring tale of self-discovery and resilience appealing to all who face overwhelming odds, especially deaf children who are sure to be encouraged by his pioneering legacy.

Published by: RIT Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

I met Bob Davila 12 years ago. As I came to know him and what I thought was his story, it became clear to me that it was one that should be shared with the world. The barriers he faced and overcame, as a son of poor Mexican immigrants to the United States who was deafened as a young boy, are uniquely remarkable. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

As educators with a longstanding interest in bettering the lives of all children, especially those who are deaf and members of ethnic minorities, we know that children learn resilience from models in their lives, whether they are fictional heroes in books, tales of ancestors, teachers, parents, or classmates. ...

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pp. 1-4

“That was a Momento de Verdad for me,” Bob recalled when discussing the January afternoon in 1989 when he met with Secretary of Education Dr. Lauro F. Cavazos in the U.S. Department of Education building in the Nation’s capitol. It was a “moment of truth.” ...

Terms and Abbreviations

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pp. 5-6

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Chapter 1. A Sense of Loss

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pp. 7-14

In 1940, when Rosalio and Soledad Davila worked in the fields with their children, more than three-quarters of California’s 200,000 farm workers were Mexican or Mexican-American. Their existence was a transitory one. They followed the potato, cotton, lemon, plum, orange, and pea harvests ...

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Chapter 2. Waking Up in Silence

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pp. 15-22

Things changed drastically for the Davila family after Rosalio’s death. “When the burden of raising a large family befell my mother,” he remembered, “I almost never saw her afterwards, especially during the important development years. She was gone day and night. She would come in after dark, ...

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Chapter 3. Out of the Barrio

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pp. 23-36

Being sent away to live at such a school was not at all unusual for pupils within the deaf education system of that era. Federal legislation had not yet been passed to provide more choices to parents. Approximately 80 percent of the deaf children in the U.S. were enrolled in residential schools, ...

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Chapter 4. A Rough Start

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pp. 37-48

The irony of Bob’s deafness opening the doors to a bright future was not lost on him as he looked back, decades later. “My deafness was actually a blessing in disguise….I had opportunities that my brothers and sisters didn’t.”1 His mother so fully appreciated the capabilities of the CSD teachers that she later told Bob ...

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Chapter 5. Bedazzled

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pp. 49-54

The summer following Bob’s junior year was spent at home in California. His brother Gabe, now a World War II veteran, was working in construction and attending college with support from the GI Bill, which was available to all World War II veterans. Bob, now 20 years old, found work at North American Aircraft, ...

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Chapter 6. Breaking Down Barriers

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pp. 55-68

In September 1953, Bob began his career as a teacher at the second oldest school for the deaf in the United States—the New York School for the Deaf (NYSD) at White Plains. It opened its doors in 1818, about one year after the American School for the Deaf in Hartford was established. ...

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Chapter 7. Syracuse

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pp. 69-76

The move to Syracuse in the fall of 1970 was a positive experience for the Davila family. Though Bob, Donna and the boys knew that the primary reason they were there was for Bob to complete his doctoral studies, they nevertheless found their increasing time together a joy. ...

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Chapter 8. Giving Back to the Profession

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pp. 77-90

In the summer of 1972, with his Ph.D. completed, Bob felt it was now time to begin contributing to the field of deaf education. His marriage to Donna, two children, graduate studies, and part-time jobs kept him so busy that he seldom looked back. His family life in the barrio had become a distant memory. ...

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Chapter 9. Blessed and Tormented

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pp. 91-98

“I was surprised because I was a teenager and had never really gotten to hear my father speak Spanish,” Brian recalled about a family vacation to Puerto Rico in the mid-1970s when his father had lost the keys to the hotel room.1 Bob had gone around asking people in Spanish if they could help the family look for the keys. ...

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Chapter 10. Deaf President Now

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pp. 99-106

Ever since the early 1960s when Dr. Ray L. Jones directed the National Leadership Training Program in the Area of the Deaf (NLTP) at California State University at Northridge (CSUN), there had been formal opportunities for qualified deaf persons to develop leadership skills. ...

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Chapter 11. Momento de Verdad

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pp. 107-120

Being the first deaf person and the second person ever to be elected to the top post of all three major professional organizations for educators serving deaf students—the Conference of Educational Administrators of Schools and Programs for the Deaf (CEASD), the Convention of American Instructors of the Deaf (CAID), ...

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Chapter 12. Assistant Secretary!

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pp. 121-134

On July 13, 1989, the Congressional Record reported that the Senate had confirmed Robert Refugio Davila, of the District of Columbia, to be Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services, Department of Education. ...

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Chapter 13. The Second Firestorm

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pp. 135-144

By the spring of 1992, only occasional whiffs of smoke and a few glowing embers remained from the initial firestorm over Bob’s ability to represent all disabilities. More than two years earlier, Bob had begun his work as a member of President George H. W. Bush’s administration thinking a great deal about what his legacy would be. ...

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Chapter 14. Fiercely the Product of Both Cultures

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pp. 145-156

When the Democrats claimed the White House, Bob began spending time reacquainting himself with his computer and enjoying with Donna the longest “vacation” they had had in many years. After leaving his office at high noon on January 20, they traveled to the West Coast for a restful vacation there, ...

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Chapter 15. Return to White Plains

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pp. 157-166

Not surprisingly, Bob soon became restless after leaving OSERS. He updated his resume, giving absolutely no thought to retirement. He had many prospects in other cities but preferred to remain in Washington, D.C. Although gone from public service, he was not forgotten. ...

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Chapter 16. The NTID Years

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pp. 167-184

Bob was formally installed into the office of vice president for RIT and director of NTID during a ceremony in the college’s Robert F. Panara Theatre in October 1996. Among the guests on stage that day was Gallaudet University President I. King Jordan. Poking fun at the rivalry between the two colleges, ...

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pp. 185-192

Since Bob Davila completed his role as chief executive officer at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology in December 2003, it has become apparent to us that he just would not “retire” from pursuing his legacy. “I’m up to my gills,” he wrote us in October 2004 ...

Appendix: Robert Davila: Selected Honors and Awards

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pp. 193-196


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pp. 197-208

Selected Bibiography

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pp. 209-214

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About the Authors

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pp. 215-216

Dr. Harry G. Lang is a professor in the Department of Research and Teacher Education at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute of Technology. A member of the NTID faculty since 1970, he has also held a distinguished visiting professorship at the University of Leeds, England, ...


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pp. 217-225

E-ISBN-13: 9781933360577
Print-ISBN-13: 9781933360263

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 19
Publication Year: 2008