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UDC under Temporary Leadership

Dorothy Rowley | 1/2/2013, 8 a.m.

Following months of financial discord that targeted faculty and staff layoffs and reduction of several programs and curriculums, the University of the District of Columbia's (UDC) Board of Trustees voted last month to fire president, Allen L. Sessoms - and to temporarily replace the school's leadership with UDC administrator Dr. Rachel Petty.

As acting president, Petty will lead the day-to-day operations of the university until a long-term interim president is appointed later this month. During that time, a national search for a permanent president - for which city leaders insist being part of - is expected to be launched.

"Dr. Petty is the right person at the right time to assume this leadership position," said UDC Board of Trustees chairwoman Dr. Elaine Crider. "Her dedication to this university is well known, and we are excited about the future."

Petty, who has more than 34 years' service as a professor, researcher and academic administrator, has held the positions of chair of the Department of Psychology and Counseling, acting vice president for Academic Affairs, and dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

"I am proud to be able to serve the university I love in an even greater capacity," said Petty. "Our residents deserve a high quality public university, and I look forward to helping move the university of D.C. forward."

During a closed session on Dec. 19 that lasted more than four hours, the board finalized its decision to terminate Sessoms, 65, who - armed with an impressive resume - assumed the helm of the District's only public university more than four years ago.

Sessoms, a former president of Delaware State University, had come under fire in 2011 for increasing tuition. But it was the controversial spending scandal in 2010, which tarnished his reputation and most likely ended his honeymoon with the board. In that matter, he was accused of using taxpayer funds to cover personal expenses, including a one-way flight to Egypt that cost nearly $8,000. While it remains unclear if the over-the-top expenditures played a role in Sessoms' termination, Ward 6 Council member Tommy Wells said he believed it did.

"I don't second-guess the board's decision at all," Wells said in a recent interview. "We're public servants, we're on the public's dime and there's no question that [Sessoms' spending] was unacceptable."

In announcing its decision, the board praised Sessoms for his accomplishments that included raising admission standards and creation of its community college. Another component of Sessoms' massive plan to overhaul the struggling school to make it more competitive with nearby colleges, had been to change the complexion of the university by attracting more non-minority students.

But according to the board, and in accordance with Sessoms' September 2008 appointment, UDC not only embarked on a significant upgrade in campus facilities, but also sought to develop a comprehensive strategic plan aimed at academic, administrative and operational reform.

"We thank Dr. Sessoms for his work in guiding the university over the past four years," said Crider. "But as we grapple with the challenges of reducing staff and programs, continuing to improve our physical plant and attracting new students, the board has decided to go in a different direction."

Meanwhile Sessoms, who was paid $295,000 annually, contends through his attorney Elliott Adler that he was fired without cause. Alder said his client will not appeal the board's decision, but will seek a full year's salary.