UDC Board Sounds the Alarm

Dorothy Rowley | 11/22/2013, 11:02 a.m.
For years, about 70 percent of space at the business administration building at the University of the District of Columbia ...
The board of trustees at the University of the District of Columbia voted to eliminate several programs during a recent public meeting. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah

For years, about 70 percent of space at the business administration building at the University of the District of Columbia has been unused. Only four students enrolled in the physics program this fall. If the university can squeeze between $3 and $4 million from its $168 million budget, the intercollegiate athletics program could be saved — maybe.

The alarming revelations were some of the concerns shared during a lengthy public meeting convened Nov. 19 by UDC's board of trustees, during which the elimination of several academic programs were approved in accordance with the university's strategic plan, also known as "Vision 2020." The initiative aims to cut costs and invest in programs that will increase enrollment as the board steers the publicly-funded university on a new path of financial autonomy and stability.

"We looked at a number of things [including] administrative responsibilities and eliminating additional programs." said James E. Lyons, the university's interim president. "Just having gone through right-sizing and eliminating so many [staff and faculty] positions and dismantling some operations — it just didn't appear practical to come back [to the board without] those recommendations."

Lyons said 17 programs have been approved for termination, largely due to a lack of resources and low student enrollment.

Among programs slated for the chopping block next fall are the associate's degree program for graphic communication technology, the bachelor's degree programs for sociology, mass media and journalism, physics, procurement and public contracting, and economics and history. The master's degree programs for special education and math statistics will also be discontinued.

One of the programs of contention among the board members was the physics curriculum, which in recent years has attracted only about six students annually. One bachelor's degree has been awarded in the past year.

But trustee Joseph Askew pointed out that despite its low enrollment, 100 percent of the school's physics students graduate. He also noted the need for more minorities in the science technology, engineering and math fields of employment.

"It's all in the professors' approach to physics," Askew said, adding that UDC accounts for one percent of all schools that graduate physics majors. He said that with other schools across the country having sought to replicate its curriculum, UDC's program is far from failure.

However, one of the most pleasing moments of the meeting came when the board decided to keep the elementary education program intact. The decision emitted a rousing round of applause from among the more than 100 people who attended the four-hour meeting, held on the flagship campus in Northwest.

"We're producing graduates with immediate success who are able to meet their credentials and to go into classrooms [prepared to teach]," said April Massey, the acting dean of the university's College of Arts and Sciences. "We're ready to [move forward offering] a program with a strong showing and that offers a pipeline of graduates, knowing they will be able to [become successful leaders."

Massey said that many of the exemplary teachers in the District's public schools system were trained at UDC — including one of the 30 educators who received cash awards for their outstanding classroom performance during a recent event at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.