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Dysfunctional process threatens UDCís future

(Published February 25, 2002)


Staff Writer

Presidents of the 13 other universities located in metropolitan Washington unanimously agree they could not operate under the "intolerable situation" facing leaders of the University of the District of Columbia, according to interim UDC President Timothy Jenkins.

Jenkins, testifying at a city council hearing earlier this month, said the universityís lack of control over its own finances, property, purchasing and computer systems has crippled its ability to serve students and threatens its academic accreditation.

Jenkins cited a "ridiculous set of roadblocks by the D.C. government to UDC being able to operate efficiently as a university." Among them:

Calling himself a "citizenís president Ė freer to tell the truth" than his predecessors because he is not seeking permanent appointment, Jenkins lambasted the recently retired D.C. financial control board and other city leaders for saddling the university with information technology systems that are incompatible with its reporting requirements and repeatedly failing to fund needed improvements.

Jenkins said using the universityís current information technology systems to comply with academic accrediting organizationsí reporting standards requires "manual manipulation of data ...[that] becomes time-consuming and prone to error." He said the university has an "urgent need" for a one-time infusion of $6.1 million to correct the computer problems.

"The failure to meet any of these critical needs threatens to undermine the universityís overall stability and competitiveness at this delicate point of rebuilding," Jenkins said.

Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, D-Ward 7, who chairs the councilís education committee, has pledged to fight for "a realistic operating budget" to help correct problems caused by UDCís consistent under-funding.

"Without a realistic operating budget, UDC doesnít stand a chance at improving its programs or its public image," Chavous said.

But Chavous also cited inherent problems with the cityís budgeting process, which requires his committee to essentially "rob" other city agencies under his committeeís purview Ė the public libraries, the public schools or the cityís recreation and parks programs Ė to increase UDCís funding. Chavous noted that all of these agencies have suffered budget cuts in recent years and now require increased funding.

The cityís contribution to UDCís budget increased to $45 million for fiscal 2002, up slightly from the $38 million allocated for fiscal 1996, after the control board took over and slashed the universityís funding. UDCís enrollment plunged from 12,000 students in 1990 to 4,700 in 1996, after deep budget cuts forced faculty layoffs and a reduction in course offerings. UDCís enrollment has gradually increased since then to slightly more than 5,000 students, according to the Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area.

UDCís lack of autonomy appears to be having at least some effect on its efforts to recruit a new president, according to sources who said one of three finalists already has turned down the job due to problems associated with the UDC Board of Trustees being unable to control the universityís finances.

Walter Broadnax, dean of American Universityís School of Public Affairs, appears to be out of the running after he recently turned down UDCís offer, the sources said. AU announced on Feb. 21 that Broadnax has accepted the presidency of Clark-Atlanta University in Georgia.

Copyright 2002, The Common Denominator