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UDC under investigation – University of the District of Columbia

Yet with enrollment up and finances stable, campus officials look optimistically toward the future

Despite a probe by Washington, D.C.’s city government investigators
into allegations of funds mismanagement, the president of the
University of the District of Columbia (UDC) said the financially
troubled school begins the 1998-99 school year with a balanced budget
and an enrollment increase from last year.

Dr. Julius F. Nimmons Jr., president of UDC, confirmed last month
that investigators from the Washington, D.C., inspector general’s
office had launched a probe into allegations that tens of thousands of
dollars in two separate departments at the school had been mishandled.

Chris Bartolomucci, a spokesman for the inspector general’s office,
said the inspector general has declined to respond to press inquiries.

A Washington Post news article reported August 12 that the city’s
investigation was launched after Sherrilyn Silver, UDC’s former interim
chief financial officer, reported allegations about the Continuing
Education department and parking garage operations to the city’s
inspector general’s office. Nimmons said although Silver’s actions
resulted in the probe, he and the city’s chief financial officer, Earl
C. Cabbell, had Silver transferred to another city post because Nimmons
had grown frustrated with her lack of cooperation.

Nimmons confirmed that improprieties in the Continuing Education
department resulted in a number of teachers not getting paid regularly
and with funds being misspent over the past year. As a result, the head
of the department, Sandra Edgecombe, was placed on administrative leave
and dismissed in early August.

“There was mismanagement of funds in the Continuing Education
department,” said Nimmons, who added the inspector general’s probe was
warranted given the severity of the problem.

Nimmons said there were other allegations made by Silver, including
charges that receipts from money collected by the UDC parking
operations failed to match deposits made into a school banking account,
that should have been handled internally by UDC administrators. The
allegations, however, became the subject of the inspector general’s
probe after Silver reported them to city officials without the
president’s knowledge.

Other improprieties included:

* Reports that dozens of people were hired without authorization
from the school’s finance department. Nimmons described the problem as
longstanding, but notes it has been resolved.

* An accounting department employee taking kickbacks by enrolling
UDC students in courses with them not having to pay tuition. Nimmons
said that employee was fired.

Silver became interim chief financial officer at UDC this past
March after the previous CFO was transferred to work with the District
of Columbia schools. Nimmons said the CFO position at UDC is controlled
by the city’s chief financial officer. UDC’s current interim CFO is
Cyril Bryon.

Despite this latest round of controversy, Dr. Nimmons said early
registration figures indicate that UDC’s total enrollment will surpass
5,300 students this year, compared to 4,755 enrolled during the 1997-98
academic year, when the school struggled to close a $18.2 million
deficit that had resulted during the 1997 fiscal year. Nimmons said the
1998 fiscal year will close September 30, 1998, with balanced books.

“Ending the fiscal year with a balanced budget is consistent with the plan I announced for the school,” Nimmons said.

He said early registration for first-time freshmen totaled 741
students compared to 498 last year. New students at UDC, which include
first-time freshmen and transfer students, totaled 1,681 students
compared to 1,465 last year.

“I believe the steady increase in enrollment is going to continue,” Nimmons said.

Nimmons, who was formally approved as president by the UDC Board of
Trustees in April, has taken heat for reducing UDC’s full-time faculty
by 30 percent and administrative staff by 40 percent (see Black Issues,
July 9, 1998). The reduction in force was a necessary step to balance
the budget, according to Nimmons, who served as interim president for a
year prior to his permanent appointment. UDC sold its Jazz-format radio
station for more than $13 million as a deficit reduction measure (see
Black Issues, September 18, 1997).

Nimmons said getting a new computerized financial management system
would go a long way in helping UDC officials to get a better handle on
university finances.

“Our internal financial system is flawed. It does not always produce the most accurate data,” he said.

Late last month, the city’s top administrator announced UDC would
receive an additional $1.5 million in funds to help finance a new
computer system and revamp its management structure. Outgoing chair of
the D.C. financial control board, Dr. Andrew F. Brimmer, told nearly
175 university administrators, faculty members, and students the school
would receive the extra funding, but he warned that UDC has to “improve
its academic performance and management” to survive, according to the
Washington Post.

“The university is not out of danger,” he reportedly said.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates

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