In order to survive, the University of the District of Columbia — which has already had furloughs and delays in opening — faces the loss of more than one hundred faculty members and serious cuts in its programs.
“We will have to cut off some fingers and toes,” said Dr. Reginald Wilson, a member of the board of trustees of the university. “But the university will apparently be saved.” With city legislators and members of Congress questioning whether the university should even exist, survival is not to be taken lightly.
First, UDC was forced to cut its budget by more than $30 million in one year. Then it was told to cut another $16.2 million and its president, Dr. Tilden LeMelle re signed on November 30, saying, “too often of late, the politics of blame and confusion over control of the District has focused on my stewardship of the University.”
Caught in the maelstrom of the politics of the District of Columbia, which has itself been nut under the control of a congressionally appointed financial control board, the university has had to argue for its very existence, reminding its city that no other college or university has as its mission educating the ordinary citizen. When the chairman of the Financial Control Board, Dr. Andrew grimmer, recently said that he sees a need for a public institution to serve the educational needs of the city’s citizens, UDC supporters breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“The question [of UDC’s survival] has been raised and the question has been answered,” said John Britton, public information officer for the university. That isn’t the last word from Brimmer, however. Brimmer’s control board has instituted a review that, in the words of Mark Goldstein, deputy executive director, “will examine the management and the structure of the university and its effectiveness in providing higher education. We expect that we would in our report make major recommendations for altering the structure of how the university provides both the education and the management structure that exists.”
The review, Goldstein said, will be completed in February. “We know that there are serious problems in the finance, management and programs of the university…that need tending to,” he said. These are the kinds of statements the control board made before finishing its review of the D.C. school system. Subsequently the board took over the system, firing its superintendent, demoting its school board and hiring Gen. Julius Becton Jr., former president of Prairie View A&M, to run the schools.
“We are not talking about eliminating the university,” Goldstein said. “We haven’t been more specific than that at this point.” When the new interim president of the university, Dr. Julius F. Nimmons Jr., submitted his budget that includes the $16.2 million cut, it called for eliminating 250 jobs, including 125 faculty members, and selling assets such as the radio station. After the cuts take effect, UDC will have 246 full-time faculty positions and 307 full-time non-faculty positions, the plan said.
Board of Trustees member Wilson, who has been named to head a search committee for a new president, said that such a cut “is a real sacrifice. The board of trustees doesn’t like it, the students don’t like it, but there’s nothing we can do. The university will look very different.”
Wilson added, “It might be that what will come out of the reduction will be the necessity of cutting out our graduate program.” Other programs that Wilson said will be targeted for cuts are the agricultural experiment station that the university is required to maintain to retain its land-grant status, its prison program with Lorton Prison, and its institute on gerontology. Also, he said, “We will probably have to get rid of some of the buildings that we are leasing.”
Wilson complained that the university has not been supported by the political culture of the city. “We don’t find a strong allegiance to the university among the City Council, or the mayor, or the control board,” he said. “They are transfixed by the universities. [They say,] ‘Let them go to Howard, or Georgetown.’ But we have 10,000 students who cannot be admitted to any college.”
Wilson said that UDC, which had an enrollment of 7,464 students this fall, “prides itself on rescuing students.” “A good deal of our resources are used for remediation to Bet students up to the level of doing university-level work. Once they get to that level, they do very well,” he said, noting that UDC is fifth among 117 historically Black colleges and universities in granting degrees and fourteenth in its graduates going on to get Ph.D.s.
One of those graduates, Dr. Thomas Stewart, was the first African American to be inducted into Harvard’s prestigious Society of Fellows. He has said that his time at UDC prepared him well for Harvard, but that when he graduated from high school a life in academe was not his aim.
“I simply had no desire to enter college right out of high school,” he said in testament to the strength of the program at UDC. “I came from a household in which college was not emphasized.”
Wilson said he would never contemplate allowing UDC being cut down to a community college as has been discussed. “We are not opposed to a community college,” he said. “There are many associate degrees granted by UDC. But we know what the transfer rate is from community colleges to four-year colleges for African Americans — 5 percent. That is unacceptable.”
UDC conferred 193 associate degrees in 1994, the same year it conferred 555 bachelor’s degrees and 130 master’s degrees. Even before the current round of fiscal woes, the city’s contribution to the school’s budget fell from $76 million in fiscal 1992 to $43 million last year. It is now working on a $38 million budget for next year.
At the same time, its enrollment plummeted from the almost 14,000 students when the school opened in 1980 to 10,000 last year — and little more than 7,000 this year.
UDC was created in 1976 by combining D.C. Teachers College, Federal City College and Washington Technical Institute in what remains one of the nation’s only urban land grant universities.
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