- The Washington Times - Friday, August 30, 2002

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the Rev. Willie F. Wilson and key members of the D.C. Council yesterday said the University of the District of Columbia's law school must improve its performance and expressed support for UDC's new president.

"Certainly you want your bar passage rate to be up. You want to get accredited. You want to get your graduation rates up," said Mr. Williams. "UDC is in a turnaround situation and I'm confident that the president can do the job."

UDC President William Pollard is "going to have to make some changes. He is going to have to make controversial and harsh changes, even if people's feelings get hurt," said council member Adrian M. Fenty, Ward 4 Democrat and member of the education committee, which oversees the university.

D.C. leaders were commenting on a report in The Washington Times that said fewer than a quarter of graduates of UDC's David A. Clarke School of Law pass the bar exam on the first try, even though the school is spending nearly twice the national average on its students.

The American Bar Association, which accredits law schools nationwide, said 22 percent of Clarke school graduates passed the bar last year. The national average is 73 percent. About 70 percent of graduates from D.C. law schools such as the Georgetown University Law Center and Catholic University's Columbus School of Law pass the bar on their first try.

Since 1999, enrollment at UDC's law school has fallen 24 percent, from 168 to 128 students, while the publicly funded university has doubled its spending on the school and tripled its spending on faculty. The national average for law school costs is $5,687 per student; UDC is spending $11,043.

Mr. Pollard, who became president in July, said he had not reviewed all of the university's finances in detail and had not devised a reorganization plan.

Throughout the 1990s, the D.C. Council, Congress and the now-defunct financial control board recommended the law school be closed because of its high cost and low performance.

Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat and member of the education committee, yesterday said city resources should not be wasted on an underperforming law school.

"Every dollar spent on the law school is a dollar that could be spent on elementary education," said Mrs. Ambrose. "We should not be in a situation where we are heavily subsidizing tuition of law students when we have serious moral and legal obligations to provide a strong elementary and secondary program."

Mr. Wilson, who is vying with Mr. Williams as a write-in candidate for the Democratic mayoral primary, said through a spokesman that UDC needs to ensure it is spending its budget wisely so it can attract the best faculty.

"We need to increase the quality of the law school and the overall image of the university," Mr. Wilson said. "We need to make sure the law school budget allows us to attract and retain the best faculty in order to ensure the students are best prepared."

According to UDC financial records obtained by The Times under the Freedom of Information Act, most of the law school's costs since 1999 have increased for the law library and for faculty salaries.

Beginning at zero in 1999, spending on the law library increased to a peak of nearly $1.3 million last fiscal year. This year about $1.2 million will be spent on the law library, which is about equal in size to the university's main library, which serves 5,300 students.

Meanwhile, faculty spending has nearly tripled from $541,000 in 1999 to $1.4 million this year. The school has 23 full-time professors and boasts a 6-1 student-to-teacher ratio.

Council member Kevin Chavous, Ward 6 Democrat and education committee chairman, did not return calls seeking comment yesterday.

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat and the District's nonvoting congressional representative, said through a spokeswoman that she did not want to comment on the issue until she received further information.

Mrs. Ambrose said an underperforming law school is not necessary when public school students perform so poorly.

"When you have elementary and secondary education test scores still coming up woefully short of the national norm, as ours came up, I think we have to devote all of your resources on the front end," she said. "This very much concerns me. I'm concerned about spending every single available dollar on the front end. "

The $4 million UDC has spent on the law school could be used to reduce the number of students in public-school classrooms, Mrs. Ambrose said.

Mr. Fenty said he sees a need for UDC and its law school, but added that university resources should not be squandered.

"I think they should respond and be concerned about statistics like that," he said. "I want them to continue in the right direction to provide a better education if they can do it for less."

Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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