- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance has begun investigating the hiring of the University of the District of Columbia’s new provost — a crony of the school’s president who apparently lacks the required experience and education for the post.

The open-ended investigation will initially focus on whether UDC President William L. Pollard violated standards of conduct for public officials in hiring family friend Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke. The ethics probe could expand to include other issues involving the District’s land-grant university, said Kathy S. Williams, general counsel for the Office of Campaign Finance.

“We don’t know what will happen as a result of initiating this investigation,” said Ms. Williams.

The Office of Campaign Finance, the investigative arm of the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics, enforces laws regarding the ethical conduct of public officials, lobbying activities, conflicts of interest and campaign finance.

The UDC investigation, which began Friday, must be completed and the findings reported in a legal order within 90 days. However, the Office of Campaign Finance can petition the elections board to extend the deadline, according to city law.

The investigation follows a series of reports this month by The Washington Times:

• On July 11, The Times first reported that Mr. Pollard had hired Mrs. Reuben-Cooke as provost and vice president of academic affairs even though she has about 18 months’ experience as an administrator and does not have a doctorate. The job, as advertised, requires a doctoral degree and an established record as a senior academic administrator.

• On July 18, The Times reported that Mr. Pollard had given Mrs. Reuben-Cooke a $10,000 signing bonus for accepting the $137,000-a-year job. The school’s board of trustees later rescinded the signing bonus.

• On Friday, The Times reported that UDC campus police are investigating the theft of financial records that coincided with media inquiries into Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s hiring and expenditures on Mr. Pollard’s university house. The records pertain to the school’s payroll and Mr. Pollard’s expenses, including his house, according to a campus staffer familiar with the finance department, where the theft occurred.

The Times yesterday reported that the UDC board of trustees is calling on university officials to reproduce the files and make them public.

“Right now, we are looking at the whole issue,” said Ms. Williams. “Whatever happens, it will all come out in the wash when we issue our order.”

Neither Mr. Pollard nor his spokesman responded yesterday to a request for comment.

Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, who started her new job July 15, has been unavailable for comment. She is married to D.C. lawyer Edmund Cooke, who helped Mr. Pollard secure his $200,000-a-year university job a year ago.

Board of trustees Chairman Charles Ogletree Jr., a Harvard law professor, said he expects the investigation will find no wrongdoing.

“This matter, as with other matters, is of no moment,” Mr. Ogletree said by telephone yesterday from his vacation home in Oak Bluffs, Mass. “I hope that the investigation will lead to what we expect — that the process was open and complete, and that Professor Cooke is an outstanding candidate for the position.”

The ethics probe was spurred by a complaint lodged with the Office of Campaign Finance on July 18 by Terry Lynch, executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations. He urged an independent investigation be made into Mrs. Reuben-Cook’s hiring.

“The sooner they can get straight answers on the table, the better for everybody,” Mr. Lynch said yesterday.

D.C. Council members have decried the appearance of cronyism at UDC, but Mayor Anthony A. Williams has said he is confident the trustees can fix any problems at the school.

Council member Harold P. Brazil has repeatedly called for Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s resignation, saying her failure to meet the nationally advertised minimum qualifications for the job and her personal relationship with Mr. Pollard give the appearance of favoritism.

As UDC’s chief academic officer, Mrs. Reuben-Cooke is responsible for overseeing academic programs, creating academic policy, preparing academic budgets and leading the faculty.

In the university’s advertisement for the job, the minimum educational requirement was a doctoral degree or its equivalent. Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, who was a tenured law professor at Syracuse University, holds a juris doctor degree from University of Michigan Law School. The juris doctor degree is considered equivalent to a master’s degree.

The university’s advertisement also required candidates have an established record as a senior academic administrator. Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s only experience in university administration is 18 months served in the early 1990s as associate dean for academic affairs at the Syracuse University College of Law.

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

Rachel Petty, dean of the UDC School of Arts and Sciences, headed the search committee that recommended Mrs. Reuben-Cooke. Mrs. Petty said her committee looked beyond the minimum educational and work experience requirements in its recommendation.

The university is the only public institution of higher education in the District. It was chartered in 1974 as an urban land-grant university 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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