- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2003

The president of the University of the District of Columbia defends his hiring of a family friend as the school’s new provost by saying she meets a Webster’s dictionary definition of an academic “doctor.”

In a July 17 memo to the school’s Board of Trustees, UDC President William L. Pollard dismissed questions about the credentials of Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke, the new provost and vice president of academic affairs.

In his nine-page memo, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Times, Mr. Pollard cites Webster’s II New College Dictionary and writes that “the term ‘doctor’ may be defined as ‘[a] person who has earned the highest academic degree by a college or university in a specialized discipline,’ or ‘the title used to address a person who holds the degree of doctor.’”

“As there is no dispute that Dr. Reuben-Cooke holds a J.D. degree, can there be any legitimate dispute that the J.D. degree is a doctorate degree as required by the published announcement for the position of Provost …?” Mr. Pollard says in the memo. “Logic and reason require the question to be answered in the negative.”

The Times first reported July 11 that Mrs. Reuben-Cooke apparently lacks the experience and education required for the $137,000-a-year job, according to UDC’s national advertisement for provost candidates.

The ad listed the minimum education required as a doctoral degree or its equivalent and the minimum work experience as an established record as a senior academic administrator.

Mrs. Reuben-Cooke holds a juris doctor degree, or law degree, from the University of Michigan Law School and worked for 18 months as an associate dean for academic affairs at the Syracuse University College of Law. The bulk of her professional experience is as a law professor at Syracuse University.

She is the wife of District-based lawyer Edmund Cooke, who helped Mr. Pollard secure his $200,000-a-year post at UDC a year ago.

The school’s faculty and D.C. Council members have criticized the hiring, saying it appears to have been based on cronyism. And the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is investigating whether Mr. Pollard violated standards of conduct for public officials in hiring her.

Mr. Pollard frequently refers to his appointee as “Dr. Reuben-Cooke” in correspondence with the trustees and in an interview with The Times.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary (Seventh Edition), the juris doctor is “the law degree most commonly conferred by an American law school.” Black’s notes two law degrees more advanced than the J.D. — the LL.M., or the master of laws degree, and the J.S.D., or the doctor of juridical science degree.

A spokeswoman for the American Bar Association (ABA) said a J.D. degree does not bestow upon a lawyer the title “doctor.” She later retracted the statement, saying the association does not have a position on the matter.

A spokesman for Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s alma mater said her law degree is not equivalent to a doctorate.

“At Michigan, the juris doctor is not the same as a traditional higher-education doctorate degree, such as a Ph.D.,” said David Baum, assistant dean of students for the University of Michigan Law School. “The juris doctorate is a professional degree,” said Mr. Baum, who holds the degree.

The U.S. Network for Education Information draws a distinction between a professional degree, such as a J.D., and a research doctorate, or Ph.D.

“Several of the [professional degrees] incorporate the term ‘doctor,’ but they are not research doctorates and not equivalent to the Ph.D.,” according to the Web site for the network, an information and referral service operated by the National Library of Education. The Web site is www.ed.gov/offices/OUS/international/USNEI/.

Mr. Pollard was attending the annual convention of the ABA in New Orleans this week and was unavailable for comment.

Mrs. Reuben-Cooke declined a request for comment.

The Pollard memo states that he hired Mrs. Reuben-Cooke because she exhibited superior skills in management and in oral and written communication, as well as a stronger sense for delegating authority.

Mr. Pollard does not directly address in the memo Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s administrative experience. Instead, he defends the impartiality of the selection process, comparing Mrs. Reuben-Cooke and two other finalists identified as “Candidate A” and “Candidate B.”

The Times has learned that Candidate A is Wilmer L. Johnson, who served as UDC provost for 11 months before Mrs. Reuben-Cooke was hired. He holds a doctorate in higher education administration from Catholic University, served 17 years as chairman of UDC’s health and education department, and has been a faculty member since the land-grant university was founded in 1976.

Candidate B is James E. Sulton Jr., executive director for the New Jersey Commission on Higher Education since 1999. He holds a doctorate in international relations from Johns Hopkins University, served for seven years as senior academic planner and as assistant to the president of the University of Wisconsin, and was senior academic officer for the Colorado Commission on Higher Education.

The Pollard memo notes that Candidate A (Mr. Johnson) outscored Mrs. Reuben-Cooke 99-94 in an initial evaluation that assessed such qualities as “professional/academic development,” “scholarly activity” and “budget development/administration.”

Mrs. Reuben-Cooke excelled in the final panel evaluation of such qualities as “ability to apply knowledge,” “judgment” and “ability to delegate.” However, Mr. Johnson and Mr. Sulton outscored Mrs. Reuben-Cooke in the “education” and “specialized experience” categories.

Mr. Pollard’s memo lists Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s strengths as her “gender,” “leadership ability” and “awareness of the District’s environment.” But the memo also notes her “lack of knowledge about UDC and the District” as a weakness.

Mr. Johnson’s strengths are identified as his “years of experience at UDC and expertise in higher education and familiarity with faculty and staff.”

The memo states that Mr. Johnson was not selected, in part, because of comments received during the interview process that “[he] did not answer questions, had been at UDC a long time, [and] was unable to separate the management role from that of the faculty and needed to be more forceful in governance.”

Mr. Johnson declined to comment.

The Pollard memo cites Candidate B’s (Mr. Sulton’s) weaknesses as his need to relocate for the job and his “lack of knowledge about UDC and the District” — the same as for Mrs. Reuben-Cooke.

However, Mr. Sulton does have some knowledge of the District and UDC, having graduated from Howard University and serving as a faculty member at his alma mater before beginning work on his doctorate.

Mr. Sulton said he had no comment except to say, “That process is over. I’m done and I’m out of it, and I wish Dr. Pollard and our colleagues greatest success in moving the university forward.”

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