University of the District of Columbia [UDC] President Allen Sessoms and its Board of Trustees met recently to discuss budget cuts that could cost at least 25 staff and faculty members their jobs.
During the lengthy session held Oct. 3 on the Van Ness campus in Northwest, Sessoms, 65, who insisted the university – which employs about 700 people – is not struggling, explained that a decrease in the budget would ensure greater operating efficiency.
"We're talking about reducing in a significant way," said Sessoms, alluding to the $8 million to be cut from the budget. "We have been put in a position by the funding mechanism to cut back on spending, and in doing so, we've had to look at how much flexibility we have regarding faculty and staff size and facilities costs."
UDC enrolls just over 6,000 students – half attend its community college, UDC-CC, which opened in 2009.
The new cuts, which would reduce UDC's operating budget from $108 million to $100 million, mirror a personnel realignment that took place in September that involved several retirements and departures for various reasons.
Sessoms said that while he's not sure tuition at UDC would be impacted, plans also call for the community college – which costs $5.6 million per year to operate – be relocated from the old Bertie Backus Elementary School, the P.R. Harris Educational Center and the 801 North Capitol Street building to the UDC campus on Connecticut Avenue.
Sessoms, who has been at the helm since 2008, earns $295,000 a year and enjoys perks that include a Lincoln Navigator and gas, plus a $1.6 million home in Northwest for which the upkeep is paid by the university.
Asked during the meeting if he would consider a reduction in his salary to help defray university expenditures, Sessoms responded that he would think about it, but that was a decision for the UDC Board of Trustees to consider, not him.
He said however, that the District simply has not allocated the necessary funding to maintain the three campuses.
"We got the Bertie Backus and the P.R. Harris Educational Center for the community college, as well as a nod on a lease/purchase arrangement on a building on North Capitol Street. But it's costing us $2 million more a year, which is pretty expensive. As a result, we've had to consider moving those facilities back to the main campus and saving $5 million a year."
Despite Sessoms's assertions that the university is "doing well," in recent months, various media reports have described UDC as being under serious financial strain.
According to a 28-page report released last month by Mayor Vincent C. Gray, "Nearly three-quarters of UDC's faculty are full or associate professors as compared with a 40 percent average for peer institutions."
In the report titled, "Creating Pathways to Sustainability and Accountability," UDC officials outlined a three-month effort by staff and the Board of Trustees to develop, not only "a right-sizing plan that eliminates waste and redundancy, but which replaces antiquated programs and courses with those that are more conducive to current careers and others that will be created in the future."
"This is a solid first step," said Board of Trustees Chairwoman Dr. Elaine A. Crider, in announcing the report. "We have taken this effort very seriously, and it has allowed us to re-examine the University's mission and create a new vision which honors the school's history while embracing necessary change."
UDC, which touts itself as a comprehensive public institution that prepares students for immediate placement in the workforce, now faces a Nov. 1 deadline for submitting an application to an accrediting agency that will enable UDC-CC to become a UDC branch campus.
"Bottom line, is that we're trying to find ways to be much more efficient," said Sessoms. "We're looking to bring other resources to the table to help reduce UDC costs."