- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 10, 2003

The president of the University of the District of Columbia has hired a family friend to fill the school’s No. 3 job — a $137,000-a-year administrative position for which the new hire has about 18 months of experience and lacks the required doctoral degree.

In hiring Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke as the school’s provost and vice president of academic affairs, UDC President William L. Pollard bypassed the school’s board of trustees and personally pushed her resume through the search committee, according to university officials familiar with the matter.

“Would it be preferable that I select someone else’s crony?” Mr. Pollard said in an interview with The Washington Times. “We are talking about a woman who has more than 13 years of academic experience.”

Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, a tenured law professor at Syracuse University since 1992, was not among the seven candidates originally recommended by the search committee. Months after making its recommendations, the committee was reconvened to review her application, which came directly from the president’s office, said a search committee member who asked not to be identified.

“If her name had been blanked out and Mr. Pollard had not said take a look at this, she would not have made the cut,” said the committee member.

As UDC’s chief academic officer, Mrs. Reuben-Cooke will oversee academic programs, create academic policy, prepare academic budgets and lead the faculty. She begins her new job Wednesday.

She is married to D.C. lawyer Edmund Cooke, who helped Mr. Pollard secure his $200,000-a-year job at UDC a year ago.

Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, who worked in Syracuse, N.Y., but lived with her husband in Fairfax Station, did not return calls seeking comment.

Founded in 1976, the 5,000-student land grant university has been plagued by financial turmoil and low morale. In the mid-1990s, UDC racked up a heavy deficit and nearly lost its accreditation. Last month, the university’s law school failed to win full accreditation from the American Bar Association.

The ties between Mr. Pollard and Mrs. Reuben-Cooke spurred some longtime faculty members to complain that the hire smacks of cronyism — a charge Mr. Pollard dismissed, saying she was the best candidate and their personal relationship did not influence his decision.

Mr. Pollard said each candidate was vetted by the school’s Human Resources Department and the search committee, but he alone made the hiring decision.

After advertising the position in national education publications, the search committee recommended about seven candidates to Mr. Pollard early this year, according to a committee member. In April, Mr. Pollard submitted Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s name, and at least two other candidates were added to the list.

The committee ultimately recommended about 10 candidates and Mr. Pollard picked three to consider for the job, including Mrs. Reuben-Cooke and Wilmer L. Johnson, the acting UDC provost and vice president for academic affairs.

Mr. Johnson had been earning $125,110 a year at the job. Mrs. Reuben-Cooke will earn about $137,000 and receive a fully tenured law professorship, guaranteeing her job security at UDC regardless of her future role in the administration.

In the university’s advertisement for the job, the minimum educational requirement was identified as a doctoral degree or its equivalent.

Mrs. Reuben-Cooke holds a juris doctor degree from University of Michigan Law School and a bachelor’s degree in political science from Duke University.

“The issue of qualifications is somewhat subjective,” said Rachel Petty, search committee chairman and dean of the UDC School of Arts and Sciences.

Mr. Pollard, who repeatedly has referred to his new hire as “Dr. Reuben-Cooke,” said the juris doctor degree is equivalent to a doctorate.

“No,” said Becky Hoven, director of academic administration for Georgetown University Law School. “It is more like a master’s degree.”

Miss Hoven said a master of law degree is closer to a doctorate, but a doctor of juridical science degree is the true equivalent of a Ph.D.

“You don’t do the same kind of work for a juris doctor degree that you do for a Ph.D.,” she said. “You don’t do anything that is similar to a [doctoral] thesis.”

The juris doctor degree is equated with a master’s degree at such schools as Yale University, DePaul University, Pepperdine University School of Law and Florida State University College of Law.

Among the 10 candidates recommended by the search committee were applicants with doctorates in education, physics, chemistry and engineering. One held a law degree and a Ph.D. in another field, said Mrs. Petty.

The university’s advertisement also identified the minimum work experience requirement as an established record as a senior academic administrator.

According to her resume, Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s only experience as an administrator were 18 months she served in the early 1990s as associate dean for academic affairs at Syracuse University College of Law. She spent four years in the early 1980s as associate director of the Institute for Public Representation at Georgetown University Law Center.

The bulk of her experience has been as a law professor at Syracuse University, where Mr. Pollard was a professor of social work and dean of the College of Human Services and Health Professions for nine years.

Mrs. Petty said the committee looked beyond the minimum educational and work experience requirements in recommending Mrs. Reuben-Cooke. She said Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s professional activities — such as serving on the board of trustees for Wells College, a women’s liberal arts school in Aurora, N.Y.; the Westover School, an all-girls high school in Middlebury, Conn.; and Duke University — helped her candidacy.

Mr. Pollard and Charles Ogletree Jr., chairman of the UDC board of trustees, both said Mrs. Reuben-Cooke was hired independent of the trustees, despite university accreditation standards that require trustees to confirm appointments of major academic and administrative officers.

“The board of trustees played a major role when they hired me and gave me the authority to make executive appointments,” Mr. Pollard said. “The board of trustees has not had input in any of the appointments made by me.”

Mr. Pollard said he had some informal discussions with the trustees about Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, but he did not elaborate. Some university officials familiar with the board’s activity said the trustees balked at Mr. Pollard’s request to pay Mrs. Reuben-Cooke as much as $175,000 a year.

Neither the president’s office nor the board of trustees would provide information about salary negotiations for Mrs. Reuben-Cooke.

Last week, the board of trustees approved a salary freeze for the school’s highest-paid administrators, revoking a proposed 6.4 percent retroactive pay raise for the officials, The Times reported.

The pay raise, which would have been retroactive to October, would have included the executive management team recently hired by Mr. Pollard, many of whom earn more than $100,000 a year.

Faculty members, who haven’t had a cost-of-living adjustment since 1998, and students last month threatened a walkout in the fall over the pay-raise issue. This week, faculty members said Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s hiring virtually assures a walkout when classes resume this year.

Mr. Pollard “is bleeding the school dry with these featherbed hires,” said UDC information systems professor Carl Friedman.

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