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The University of the District of Columbia on the Move

James Wright | 3/31/2010, 11:09 a.m.

CAllen Sessoms, president of UDC, told D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray that the institution will build its first student dormitory, move its community college to another location and plans a football team in the near future. Courtesy Photo
Allen Sessoms, president of UDC, told D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray that the institution will build its first student dormitory, move its community college to another location and plans a football team in the near future.

The District's only publicly-owned institution of higher learning is on the cusp of evolving into a world-class university that offers programs that fit the city's changing demographics and job market.

That€s the assessment of Allen Sessoms, president of the University of the District of Columbia and its chairman of the board, Joseph Askew. Both appeared before D.C. Council Chair Vincent Gray during a performance oversight hearing, Fri., March 19 at the John A. Wilson Building in Northwest.

"We have made great strides amidst difficult but necessary changes at the university," Askew said.

"The board continues to be pleased about the changes and the accomplishments achieved over the last two years following the board's hiring of President Sessoms and his hiring of our chief executive of the community college, Dr. Jonathan Gueverra."

While Sessoms, 61, has for the most part stayed out of the trustee board issues at least publicly, he has made it crystal clear about the direction he wants the university to take. Based on testimony provided to Gray, he has big plans.

"While we appreciate what the City Council has done for us, what we want is autonomy," Sessoms said.

"Autonomy from the Council will give us the chance to go after federal funds for projects that are needed to make this university a first-class institution."

Sessoms noted that the Council funds the university at a level of 15-20 percent, depending on the state of the economy and availability of funds. In that vein, he argued that autonomy would give the university more freedom to pursue funds from the public and private sectors.

Gray, 67, agreed with Sessoms on that point.

"We are really strapped this year with regards to the budget," Gray said.

"Everyone is asking us for more and we don't have it to give."

Askew and Sessoms talked about the revitalization of the UDC Foundation, which serves as the primary fundraising arm of the university.

"We have instituted a capital campaign to raise $30 million over the next five years and we are going to do it," Sessoms said.

"We are putting together a development staff to work on this."

Askew said that he was working to increase the number of directors on the foundation board, and pointed out that they are looking for people who are affluent and care about the university and the city.

Gray noted that the university should not only raise funds but "friendraise" or expand the number of people who are willing to financially support the university in the private sector.

Nonetheless, Sessoms remained upbeat about the university's immediate future in his 30-minute presentation to Gray. Through a video presentation, he showed Gray the plans for the university's first student dormitory, which will accommodate 600 beds and a state-of-the-art student center. Both projects are scheduled to be ready by 2013.

"These projects will not come from funds from the Council," Sessoms said.

Plans are on schedule for the Backus Middle School site in Northeast to become the school of allied health and urban education. The new community college will be relocated from the Van Ness site in Northwest to an office building on North Capitol Street in NE, with administrators moving into their offices in the summer, Sessoms said.

The university's David Clarke School of Law recently won approval by the American Bar Association to start an evening law program. In addition, the law school will move from the Van Ness campus to a location in downtown Washington.

"We are going to build the new law school with the help of federal funds," Sessoms said.

"We will not ask the council to give us any money."

Sports will become a focal point of the university. Football will return in the fall of 2013 as a Division I sport. Sessoms said that the university plans to hold practices and play its games at RFK Stadium in Northeast.

"We are going to hire a top-flight coach for our football program," the university president said.

Both men acknowledged that changes at UDC will not come easy but Sessoms has reason for optimism.

"There's a lot to do but we are going to get things done together," Sessoms said.

"The university believes in itself. The Firebird is rising."