Athletics return, but the struggle continues at UDC; Harvard professors, local AAUP members unite to aid faltering institution – University of the District of Columbia; American Association of University Professors

Updated Mar 17, 2016

Washington

The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) will reinstate its athletics program in the fall, thanks to a referendum vote by students to increase student athletic fees by $50.

The announcement was made by UDC Board of Trustee’s Chair Michele V. Hagans during the university’s twentieth annual commencement ceremony on May 24, which featured approximately 950 graduates.

“Our financial crisis forced us to eliminate our intercollegiate athletic program,” Hagans told the audience gathered on the campus’s Dennard Plaza for commencement. “Our student leaders, however, said they wanted to find a way to fund this program themselves…. Therefore, the Firebirds will rise again from the ashes next season.”

Meanwhile as the struggle to preserve and reconfigure UDC continues, a group of Howard University professors and local members of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) have joined the ranks of those advocating for shared governance at the District of Columbia’s only public four-year university.

Under the new plan to restore athletics, which was developed by an ad hoc committee of faculty and students, athletic fees will be raised from their current level of $25 per semester to $75. If the campus is able to reach a student enrollment of at least 6,000 per semester and 3,000 during the summer, the new fee schedule would generate in excess of $1.1 million for the athletics program, said interim UDC President Julius F. Nimmons Jr.

The university plans to fully reinstate its sports program, offering competitive teams in men’s and women’s basketball, tennis, and track and field; men’s soccer; and women’s volleyball. It also will support cheerleaders and make the campus swimming facilities available to all students.

Attracting students continues to be one of UDC’s biggest challenges. This spring, amid a flood of bad press about the
institution’s financial difficulties, rumors about its possible closure, and the dismissal of nearly one third of its faculty and administrative staff, enrollment dipped to a low of 5,917. The academic year had begun with a fall enrollment of 7,684.

“We figured that if we are to increase our enrollment, sports might be an avenue to bring students into the university,” says faculty member Brenda Brown-Magnum, who sat on the ad hoc committee.

“Our projection for student enrollment in the fall is 7,000,” said Nimmons.

Despite this optimism, UDC’s future remains murky. The congressionally-appointed financial control board, which has been mandated the task of getting the District of Columbia’s finances in shape, has yet to determine whether it will continue to fund the university as a four-year institution. To date no consensus has been reached on the 1997-98 budget. The UDC Board of Trustees and the financial control board are squabbling over what, if any, additional cuts need to be made. According to one trustee, the two bodies are as much as $11 million apart.

“The budget is not due to [Capitol] Hill until June 15, so to suggest any variances at this point is premature,” said control board spokesman Mark Goldstein.

The control board expects to receive final recommendations from its staff committee sometime toward the end of June. But some UDC advocates aren’t waiting until June to register their support for the university.

On March 4, the Howard University Faculty Senate passed a resolution supporting UDC’s faculty and staff. That led to the formation of the Howard University/UDC Coalition Committee — which consists of AAUP members of the UDC and Howard faculty, and various members of the Howard faculty senate. The coalition has been meeting weekly ever since to construct a series of recommendations that it hopes will influence the actions of the control board, in whose hands the fate of UDC ultimately rests.

“We believe UDC should continue to be a four-year university and that the faculty should have more say in its future, ” said Dr. George E. Holmes, chair of the coalition committee and head of Howard’s AAUP chapter.

The coalition has sent letters of support for UDC to President Bill Clinton, members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate appropriations committees, UDC President Nimmons, Howard President Patrick W. Swygert, D.C. Financial Control Board Chairman Dr. Andrew Brimmer, UDC Board of Trustees Chair Michele Hagans, Howard University Trustee General Colin Powell, D.C. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, and the leadership of the AAUP. The coalition also is advocating for a more powerful faculty union on the UDC campus.

“They don’t have a faculty senate, and they don’t have an appeals process,” Dr. Holmes said. “If they had, there is no way so many people would have been let go.”

Brown-Mangum disagrees: “I don’t think you’ll find a large percentage of those who were let go that would feel too much else could have been done. It was about money. It wasn’t about people or personalities.”

On May 8, AAUP General Secretary Mary Burgan authorized a formal investigation into the termination of UDC faculty appointments. Unlike most universities, AAUP has little presence on the UDC campus (only 16 members) and, according to the AAUP, no formal chapter. The UDC faculty association is an affiliate of the National Education Association
(NEA), which serves as its collective bargaining agent. The UDC faculty members who are working in the Howard/UDC Coalition include some who were dissatisfied with the way the UDC faculty association conducted negotiations during the fall.

“There is not a large number of our faculty participating in this coalition group,” said Brown-Mangum, an assistant professor of mathematics and an alliance representative of the UDC faculty association. “We’re not sure what it is [the coalition] want[s]. No one has tried to get in touch with us.”

The coalition tried to meet with Dr. Nimmons on April 21 — to discuss UDC’s financial situation, the viability of academic programs, and involvement of the faculty in the restructuring process — but was refused a meeting.

“Our faculty is represented by the NEA,” Nimmons told Black Issues. “We do not have a chapter of AAUP on our campus and as long as the NEA represents our faculty, I will not discuss these matters with [AAUP] or any other bargaining group.”

Undaunted, the coalition has garnered support from AAUP chapters at neighboring institutions — including Catholic, Georgetown, George Washington and Gallaudet universities. On May 20, AAUP President Dr. Wilmer L. Johnson wrote a letter praising the Howard faculty for stepping into the fray.

Brown-Mangum hopes the coalition won’t sabotage UDC’s efforts to rebuild.

“We’re concerned that they are trying to get the university black-balled,” she said. “That is not the way to get people’s jobs back. The way to do that is to increase enrollment.”

According to AAUP officials, however, their goal is not to smear the university, but to defend faculty rights.

“In our experience, we know of no action of similar magnitude anywhere in the country against faculty members,” says Jonathan Knight, AAUP associate secretary. “We deal with over 1,000 complaints and cases a year, and only about six to ten are authorized for a full scale investigation. UDC is now one of those.”

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