UDC Money Woes Take Center Stage

Dorothy Rowley | 12/12/2012, 9:53 a.m.

The need for fiscal stability at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) has become so serious that officials are digging deeper into taxpayer coffers to make ends meet.

Despite UDC President Allen Sessoms' assertion this fall that the school's finances were up to speed, UDC appears to be so financially strapped that in addition to recently shaving off $8 million of its $108 million budget, the school has asked the District for $4 million in taxpayer funds to cover severance packages for two dozen staff and faculty members.

The terminations are in alignment with a right-sizing plan, mandated in May of this year by the D.C. Council. The plan, which is detailed in university's 68-page "Creating Pathways to Sustainability and Accountability" report, also calls for elimination of several programs and curriculums at the city's only public land-grant institution.

"There are far more personnel being considered for displacement," UDC spokesman Alan Etter said, alluding to Board of Trustees Chairwoman Dr. Elaine A. Crider's reference during an October public hearing that an estimated 110 positions were slated for the chopping block. "We have asked for resources from the city to assist in the effort - collective bargaining agreements require severance - that's why the additional resources are necessary."

Meanwhile, reports have consistently stated that UDC has been in dire financial straits for years, and that in order to increase its financial flow, officials have even gone so far as to make the community college, that comes under its purvey, part of the main campus.UDC met the Nov.1 deadline application to an accrediting agency for the community college to become a branch campus of the university. Etter said the university is currently awaiting feedback from the Philadelphia-based Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

But in stating his reluctance to offer assistance for the severance packages, Mayor Vincent Gray, 70, said he'd like to know more about where the money is going, and what impact the funding would have on the school's vision as it moves forward.

Gray spokeswoman Doxie McCoy said in an email to The Washington Informer that, "we are still working with UDC on the best solutions for the university and the city."

Sessoms said that prior to the academic year that began last summer, plans were on the table to fire about two dozen staff and faculty members in order to sustain a reasonable operating budget. At that time, the university - which employs about 700 people - had already fired 30 faculty and staff members, and considered slashing several programs and curriculums. Although Sessoms said the university was not struggling, he said that a decrease in the $108 million budget would ensure greater operating efficiency.

But UDC faculty and staff haven't been too quick to buy into Sessoms' explanation.

"Some of us want to have the Board of Trustees clear up the facts from the fiction that particularly distorts data on the real cause behind the UDC so-called deficit problem and the need to 'right-size,'" said UDC English professor Elsie Williams. "The problem clearly lies on the administrative side, as the right-sizing plan states explicitly. The administrative hiring and costs, which exceed more than 300percent, are the culprits."