- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 8, 2003

D.C. Council members praised the president of the University of the District of Columbia yesterday for taking steps to improve the long-suffering school, but told him to do more to reform the culture of apathy in the administration and improve student services.

At a performance-oversight hearing yesterday before the council’s education committee, D.C. Council member Kevin P. Chavous, the committee chairman, said UDC President William L. Pollard must redouble his effort to serve the students, who he referred to as the university’s “customers.”

“If [Mr. Pollard] is not committed to that,” Mr. Chavous said, “then I am sure that his tenure will be brief.”

Mr. Chavous also raised concerns about the proliferation of UDC executives making $100,000-plus salaries under Mr. Pollard and the president’s decision to hire family friend Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke as the new provost and vice president of academic affairs.

The D.C. Office of Campaign Finance is investigating whether Mr. Pollard violated ethics rules in hiring Mrs. Reuben-Cooke. The probe follows reports that first appeared July 11 in The Washington Times that Mrs. Reuben-Cooke apparently lacks the experience and education required for her $137,000-a-year job and may have received preferential treatment in the hiring process.

Mr. Chavous said he didn’t want the president’s new hires to perpetuate the “culture of apathy” at UDC, which has struggled with financial mismanagement, poor academic performance and accreditation concerns during the past two decades.

“We have to make sure that we do not replace old cronies with new cronies,” Mr. Chavous told Mr. Pollard, who at the hearing was flanked by Mrs. Reuben-Cooke and Peter D. Rosenstein, vice chairman of the school’s Board of Trustees.

In his first year as president, Mr. Pollard has been criticized by faculty, students and the D.C. Council for his spending priorities — such as using more than $215,000 to renovate his university residence even as the school’s classrooms and library fell into disrepair.

The Times reported yesterday that Earl Cabbell, UDC’s top financial executive, is quitting. Neither the school administration nor Mr. Cabbell publicly explained the reason for the resignation, but friends of the executive said he quit because of frustrations with Mr. Pollard.

At the hearing yesterday, Mr. Chavous read aloud a litany of student complaints, which included the lack of basic school supplies, substandard student facilities and a disorganized and unresponsive school administration.

“That goes to the change of culture that you guys have to focus on,” Mr. Chavous told Mr. Pollard.

Mr. Pollard said that in his first year he had achieved many successes. He cited the reduction of the student-loan default rate from 9.6 percent to 5.7 percent, the drafting of a $33 million capital-improvement plan and the negotiation of an employment contract with the faculty union for the first time in a dozen years.

“I have been building a strong leadership team with the support of the Board of Trustees,” Mr. Pollard said. “This team and I have begun to address many of the university’s chronic problems.”

Council member Adrian M. Fenty, who has been a vocal critic of the dilapidated condition of UDC buildings, told Mr. Pollard that the school administration had failed to perform some promised maintenance work. He said some school officials didn’t demonstrate a “sense of urgency” to perform basic repairs.

Mr. Fenty began touring the UDC campus and alerting the administration in August to urgent maintenance needs after The Washington Times reported that classrooms, libraries and other buildings had fallen into a state of disrepair.

Mr. Rosenstein said the university lacked the staff to keep up with the pressing maintenance needs. He said the school had one electrician, one plumber and one painter on staff.

“One of the issues that has been raised is the hiring of people at large salaries,” Mr. Fenty said. “When you talk about having one plumber and one electrician, how does that play out? Is there a way to bring in more front-line people?”

Mr. Rosenstein said the school needs highly qualified executives to steer the university. “If we want more plumbers or electricians, the answer isn’t to cut the pay at the top,” he said. “The answer is for the council to give the university more funding.”

In August, the administration vowed to implement a system for regularly inspecting buildings. Mr. Fenty asked Mr. Pollard to report on the status of that program.

Mr. Pollard responded: “I am satisfied that enough attention has been brought to the matter and something will be done.”

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