UDC battling back after major surgery – University of the District of Columbia

WASHINGTON

It was with
poetic irony that Mother Nature
dealt the northeastern states one final
blow of frosty weather on April Fool’s Day.

That afternoon, at the main auditorium of the
University of the District of Columbia
(UDC), despite the frigid winds that blew
outside, senior administrators delivered a
message inside that they hoped would
warm the hearts of the faculty, staff and
students gathered and herald the beginning of a
new season in the life of this battered
historically Black university.

“We choose to live, and we choose to act,”
said interim president Julius F. Nimmons Jr.
before an attentive audience of a few hundred
members of the campus community.
Nimmons had called the meeting to update
UDC’s various constituencies on the status of
the university and to share his vision for the
future. He also took advantage of the
opportunity to commend them for enduring
what he called “the most devastating of
events in the history of this university,” and
asked them to band together as they adjust to the
challenges of their newly streamlined
configuration.

Only a few months ago, some worried that
UDC was on the brink of extinction. In
February, it was forced to release nearly one
third of its faculty and administrative staff due
to an 518.2 million budget shortfall. UDC’s
current appropriation is $37 million. At one
time, it was as high as $77 million.
The budget controversy also affected
student enrollment, reducing the student
population to 5,917 this spring from its fall size
of 7,684.

“I realize that your workloads have
increased,” Nimmons said, adding that he is
aware of how the recent sequence of events
have affected morale. “But we’ve got to move
on. We have an institution to preserve.”
Despite the deep faculty cuts, the
university has been able to retain the core of its
academic program and its accreditation status
with the Middle States Association of Colleges
and Schools, Nimmons said. He also assured the
audience that he
and the board of trustees have no intentions of
turning UDC into a two-year college, an
alternative that some officials have publicly
considered.

Nimmons said he anticipates no further
reductions to the university budget
appropriation, and announced that the
university plans to begin the fall semester on
time in August. Last fall, budget woes forced
the school to delay opening until October.

As part of UDC’s new budget strategy,
preliminary steps are also being taken to
initiate a fundraising campaign. An alumni
group has already launched a campaign to raise
$3.5 million and the institution hopes to
pursue donations and grants from corporate,
foundation and other private and public
sources. Previously, there was no need for
UDC to engage in fundraising because its level
of support from the city met its needs.
In-kind services, corporate; partnerships and
volunteer expertise will be sought by UDC. A
group of students has already volunteered to
assist with public relations and student
recruitment efforts.

“Whatever it takes to bring this university
back to life…. I encourage you to do that.
Whatever you need to do to purge yourself of
the stress and negativity we all have suffered.
please do it now.” Nimmons said “Our need
for community has never been greater.”
Student body president Keith Johnson
echoed Nimmons’s call for solidarity, urging
those gathered to adopt “a new attitude….
Faculty members, you must teach your
students with pride and excellence. You must
demand excellence from your students….
Pride and excellence–I think we should take
that on as a motto for this
university.”

Faculty president Sam Carcione said
Nimmons’s pronouncements at the meeting
were a good step toward boosting faculty
morale. He agreed that solidarity is in order,
but anticipates it will be some time before all
of the wounds heal.
“I think we may have had a different
outcome if we had been able to come, together
sooner,” Carcione said. “This isn’t the first
institution that went through money problems.
We should have learned from those who did, but
we didn’t.”

Contrary to Nimmons’s statements,
Carcione says there is still no firm agreement
between the university and faculty about
beginning the fall semester in August.
Nevertheless, he is optimistic that something
will be worked out in the: coming weeks.
Students who attend UDC in the fall will
face new challenges as well as advantages not
experienced by their predecessors. Perhaps
the biggest challenge is the coming tuition
increase. Tuition for District of Columbia
residents will jump from its current level of
$58 per credit hour to $75. For non-residents,
tuition will rise from the current level of $176
per credit hour to $185.

One of the benefits UDC students will
enjoy is the newly consolidated and
refurbished university library, which will
feature: several Internet computer stations;
seven private study rooms; 250 additional
seats; an additional 12,000 square feet of floor
space a classroom to orient students in the use
of the library’s resources; expanded resources
for students with visual impairments; and
book shelf space for roughly 340,000
volumes.

“Most of this was done with capital
budget funds,” said Albert J. Casciero, the
university’s director of learning resources.
The library renovation project cost
roughly $948,000. According to Casciero,
$902,000 of that money came from capital
development funds, including dollars that
would otherwise have been spent on lease
payments for the law school. The law school
recently moved from its previous location
downtown to the main campus. All of the
university’s other off-site facilities
have been moved back to the main
campus as well.

While UDC appears to have survived the
worst part of its crisis, its discussions with
the congressionally appointed D.C. financial
control board continue. The control board will
meet with university trustees in the coming
months to discuss additional changes the
control board may wish to see in the
management and fiscal operations of the
institution.

Nimmons has advice for other institutions
that may be facing serious financial problems.
“One of the things I wish we had done
earlier is to address the problem as early as
possible,” he says. “If the problem is
financial, recognize the reality that only in
rare instances is anyone coming to your aid.
You’re going to have to do it within the
context of your own existing resources, so
go ahead and make the tough painful
decisions early. The longer you delay it, the
shorter the time and the greater the pain.”

COPYRIGHT 1997 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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