University of the District of Columbia President William L. Pollard unexpectedly resigned at a board of trustees’ meeting Tuesday, ending a five-year tenure. Despite tensions with the board over stagnant fundraising and the slow pace of facility improvements, board chairman James W. Dyke Jr. had talked publicly in recent months about extending Pollard’s contract, which expires July 1. Nevertheless, it appears that a plurality of board members wanted a fresh start.
“Dr. Pollard’s contributions have played an important role in bringing the university to a level of stability and advancement,” said Dyke in a statement. “On behalf of the entire board of trustees, we are grateful to Dr. Pollard for his energy and his impact on the District of Columbia, its students and its citizens. We wish him success on this new phase of his career.”
UDC recently released a list of achievements during Pollard’s tenure, including full accreditation with commendation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, as well as American Bar Association accreditation for the David A. Clarke School of Law.
Those are major milestones, given the turmoil caused in the 1990s when the D.C. Financial Control Board, created by the U.S. Congress to reverse the city’s deep financial troubles, ordered UDC leaders to close an $18.2 million budget gap by September 1997. That action effectively cut UDC’s operating budget in half and forced the school to lay off 125 professors — an unprecedented act in modern-day public higher education.
However, questions have been raised concerning the amount of resources Pollard has directed towards administrative salaries versus classroom-level expenditures. One of his most contentious hires was of provost Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke, a family friend who came onboard in 2003 at a $137,000 annual salary, a year after she helped Pollard land the UDC presidency. Though Reuben-Cooke had a law degree, she lacked a doctorate, widely considered mandatory for the chief academic officer of any university.
“There is a real concern about the disparity of administrative costs versus academic costs, and there were a lot of new hires,” says Dr. Meredith Rode, who is interim chair of UDC’s mass media, visual and performing arts department and has been a faculty member since the university’s 1968 inception. “A lot of the things seem gratuitous when we’re still not getting into the classroom the things that we need. What some of us in the university senate have asked for is a fenced academic budget, which means whatever is in the budget for academics can’t be taken for any other purpose, and that disparity has troubled a lot of people.”
However, UDC senior director of communications Mike Andrews points out that Pollard didn’t enjoy the budget autonomy most public university presidents enjoy, as every major outlay has to be approved by the D.C. City Council.
“It’s not always easy doing business in the District of Columbia,” says Andrews. “The president doesn’t have budgetary autonomy. It’s not like at other universities where, ‘Here’s your budget, allot it as you see fit.’ So it makes it real tough to do things along those lines.”
Rode concedes that Pollard and his predecessors have been hamstrung by an onerous city appropriations process. She says budget woes go “beyond Dr. Pollard. UDC has been essentially a government agency. We’re stuck to the fiscal year of the district, our fiscal year starts on the first of October, which isn’t really good with the academic year. For example, we don’t have a funded summer school; summer school has to pay for itself. We’re not given the kind of flexibility that is needed for an academic institution. I think that’s fair to say.”
Pollard’s resignation is effective June 30. UDC’s board has announced that they will commission a search committee to begin the process of selecting his successor. In the interim, UDC senior vice president and chief of staff Stanley Jackson will oversee day-to-day operations.
– David Pluviose
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