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Trustees call for change in UDC’s mission

(Published January 24, 2000)


Staff Writer

After years of financial troubles at the University of the District of Columbia and several recent appointments to the school’s trustee board, some board members are calling for changing the school’s mission and dramatic improvements in educational offerings.

"My vision for the University of the District of Columbia is to work to ensure that UDC is further developed...and to ensure its mission is to give a world-class education to D.C. residents," said trustee Jeffrey E. Thompson, president and chief executive officer of Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates. "Education equals jobs equals economic development."

Thompson, a UDC alumnus, noted that the school’s computer science program, which trains students for jobs in the computer industry, has deteriorated since the 1980s because of a lack of investment.

"Since information technology is where a lot of the high-paying jobs are here, it is important that (UDC) can train first-class employees," he said.

Thompson called on Mayor Anthony A. Williams to encourage big companies such as IBM to provide pro-bono support services to the university.

Board member Timothy Jenkins, an administrative lawyer who is chairman of Unlimited Visions Multimedia, called for refocusing the school’s mission to be "more in tune with the public school system" and for using university resources to help students in adult and continuing education programs.

The university’s current mission is to offer open admissions to all applicants, to provide affordable post-secondary education to D.C. residents, and to prepare students for immediate entry into the workforce or the next educational level.

"I...think the university should provide technical assistance to community-based organizations as well as government agencies in various areas of expertise as well as social programs," Jenkins said.

Board member Peggy Cooper Cafritz, vice president of Duke Ellington School of the Arts, said she wants to see UDC improve remedial education for "horribly trained students" who are graduates of D.C. public schools. She also called for the establishment of a core curriculum.

"After remediation, a student should be a basically well-educated person when he leaves the University of the District of Columbia," Cafritz said.

She said the university’s trustees need to ask themselves several questions while envisioning what changes they want to make: "What do we want every one of our graduates to know when they graduate? What do we think they need as a basic core of education requirements?"

The university’s 15-member trustee board includes Ramona H. Edelin, president and CEO of the National Urban Coalition; Mohamed Kamara, a student member; Michele V. Hagans, president of Fort Lincoln New Town Corp.; Greta D. Shepherd, an educational consultant; Harris M. Taylor, a specialist with the U.S. Department of Education; and Paul Woods, chairman of Kentucky State University’s Division of Educational and Human Services.

To fill vacancies on the board, the mayor recently appointed Cafritz; Peter Rosenstein, executive director of the National Association of Gifted Children; the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia; Reginald E. Gilliam Jr., a managing director at the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton; Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a Harvard law professor; Mark Palmer, a former ambassador; George Willie, a managing partner for Bert Smith & Co.; and J. Fernando Barrueta, senior vice president of Transwestern Commercial Services.

Barrueta said the board planned to meet Jan. 18 to elect its officers but postponed its meeting because of snow.

University President Julius Nimmons Jr., an ex-officio board member, said he is pleased with the board’s current composition.

"I look to this new board to carry the university with some deliberate speed," Nimmons said. "I think the board brings a substantial level of sophistication capacity and I welcome that.

"I think that they will be great additions for the university in terms of the building process and seeking the level of appropriations necessary to meet its needs," he said.

In a January 1998 vision statement, Nimmons outlined 15 goals for the university to fulfill during the 21st century. Those goals included restoring public confidence in publicly funded higher education in the District; expanding the university’s revenue base through federally and privately funded programs such as Head Start and Upward Bound, targeted fund-raising and through tuition and fees; restructuring non-degree programs so they could be offered in recreation centers, community centers and churches; rebuilding the university’s infrastructure, strengthening linkages with business, industry and government; and systematically tailoring the university’s graduate offerings to the senior and executive level manpower training needs in the Washington metropolitan area.

"The university has been challenged by a number of financial problems that we are coming out of and we are now investing in technology," said Nimmons, who noted that the Department of Education recently allocated $1.5 million to the university.

The money, he said, was a product of efforts by Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., who got Congress to designate UDC eligible for the funding as a "historically black college."

"With that new money, we are investing more and more," he said.

Nimmons noted other recent progress for the university included three balanced budgets and a student population that leveled off at 5,300 in 1999. During the crisis, he said the school had 4,700 students.

Copyright 2000, The Common Denominator