- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 20, 2003

The chairman of the University of the District of Columbia board of trustees said yesterday that the school president cannot give a $10,000 signing bonus he promised to the family friend he had hired for the university’s No. 3 job.

News of the signing bonus fueled criticism in the D.C. Council about the “appearance of favoritism” in hiring Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke, who has a close personal relationship with university President William L. Pollard but lacks the requisite experience and education for the $137,000-a-year job, The Washington Times reported Friday.

Charles Ogletree Jr., chairman of the board of trustees, said yesterday that Mrs. Reuben-Cooke would not receive a signing bonus or any kind of extra payment for taking the job of provost and vice president of academic affairs.

He said Mrs. Reuben-Cooke never was supposed to get a $10,000 signing bonus, which contradicted statements by university officials last week that the bonus was part of the approved compensation package.

“I’m sure there was interest in giving her all she deserves, but the president is not giving her a signing bonus,” Mr. Ogletree said. “The fact of the matter is that there is no $10,000 bonus for Mrs. Cooke or any of the other candidates Mr. Pollard hired.”

Susan D. Saunders, the university’s director of government affairs, told The Times last week that university officials authorized the bonus after the City Administrator’s Office, the D.C. Office of Personnel and the university’s Human Resources Department had reviewed the deal.

Mrs. Saunders supplied the same information to members of the D.C. Council.

She told The Times that the bonus was “part of our normal course of business.”

Mr. Ogletree did not respond yesterday to the question of whether Mrs. Saunders had provided inaccurate information. He also declined to discuss the board’s role in the signing-bonus issue.

“The president has the authority to make hires,” he said. “We have the authority to supervise the president’s work.”

Mr. Pollard could not be reached yesterday for comment.

The board’s denial of a signing bonus to Mrs. Reuben-Cooke comes a few weeks after the trustees reversed their decision to give a retroactive, 6.4 percent raise to the school’s well-paid administrators, including the executive management team recently hired by Mr. Pollard, many of whom earn more than $100,000 a year.

Student leaders and some university faculty members who have not had a cost-of-living increase since 1998 and who rejected an offer of a 1 percent raise earlier this year threatened a walkout this fall over the raises.

After reports in The Times that D.C. Council members opposed the raises for administrators, the trustees convened an emergency meeting June 30 and revoked raises for officials earning more than $90,000 a year.

Faculty members also have spoken out against the hiring of Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, and a group of professors recently lobbied D.C. Council members to intervene in the financial management of the university.

The Times reported July 11 that Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, who was a tenured law professor at Syracuse University, has 18 months of administrative experience and lacks the doctoral degree required for her new job. She is married to Edmund Cooke, a District-based lawyer who helped Mr. Pollard secure his $200,000-a-year job at University of the District of Columbia a year ago.

In addition to her six-figure salary and the $10,000 signing bonus originally offered to her, Mrs. Reuben-Cooke was promised a tenured professorship at the university’s David A. Clarke School of Law, which guarantees her job security regardless of her future in the administration.

As provost and vice president of academic affairs, Mrs. Reuben-Cooke is responsible for overseeing academic programs, creating academic policy, preparing academic budgets and leading the faculty.

D.C. Council member Harold P. Brazil, at-large Democrat, called for Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s resignation on Wednesday because of her lack of qualifications for the job. News of the signing bonus later in the week prompted other council members to support the call.

Mr. Brazil said the signing bonus only added to the “appearance of favoritism.”

The Downtown Cluster of Congregations, an ecumenical consortium of 39 congregations in the District, filed a complaint Friday against the university with the D.C. Office of Campaign Finance that Mrs. Reuben-Cooke had received preferential treatment in securing her job.

Terry Lynch, executive director of the organization, said an independent investigation was the only way to “assure the public that UDC is operating with the highest academic and ethics standards.”

Mayor Anthony A. Williams has continued to express confidence in the ability of Mr. Ogletree and the other trustees to fix any problems at the land-grant university.

The university is the only public institution of higher education in the District. It was chartered in 1974 as an urban land-grant institution with an open admissions policy. As of last year, the university had an enrollment of 5,300 students and a staff of 225 teachers for a nearly 24-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

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