- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The D.C. inspector general yesterday said he is wrapping up an investigation into whether the theft of financial records at the University of the District of Columbia is connected to a $263,000 renovation of the president’s residence.

“We expect it to conclude soon,” said interim Inspector General Austin A. Andersen. He said a report of the probe’s findings would be filed in about three weeks, but he declined to speculate about what conclusions might be found in the report.

Investigators reviewed financial documents at the school and conducted “a broad range of interviews,” including with staff in the finance office and other university officials, Mr. Andersen said.

The Washington Times reported in July that the theft of the records from the office of Finance Officer Mark Lassiter — a target of the investigation — coincided with media inquiries into the hiring of the school’s new provost and with media inquiries into the renovations at the campus residence of UDC President William L. Pollard.

A UDC staffer familiar with the finance department, where the theft occurred, has told The Times that the missing files contain documents regarding the school’s payroll, the financial affairs of Mr. Pollard’s office, expenses for renovating his school residence in the 3500 block of Rittenhouse Street NW, and other executive spending.

No other items were taken from Mr. Lassiter’s cubicle-style office on the third floor of UDC Building No. 38. No other financial offices or cubicles were burglarized in the incident, which Mr. Lassiter reported to campus police July 11.

The financial probe came on the heels of a city ethics investigation into the president’s hiring of a family friend as provost and added to the long-standing troubles at the District’s only public institution of higher education, which in recent years has been beset by financial mismanagement, poor academic performance and accreditation concerns.

Investigators for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics last week recommended dismissing the ethics case against Mr. Pollard, who was scrutinized for hiring family friend Wilhelmina M. Rueben-Cooke as the provost and vice president of academic affairs.

However, faculty leaders at the land-grant university remain opposed to Mrs. Rueben-Cooke, who they say lacks the requisite doctoral degree and administrative experience necessary to serve as the school’s top academic officer.

The 34-member UDC Senate, a governing body of elected faculty members, repeatedly has petitioned the board of trustees to fire Mr. Pollard and his entire management team, citing the hiring of Mrs. Rueben-Cooke as a chief grievance.

Mr. Pollard declined to answer questions this week about the faculty’s call for his resignation. He directed inquires to his spokesman, Michael Andrews.

“The faculty Senate is entitled to their opinion,” Mr. Andrews said.

Since taking the reins at UDC in July 2002, Mr. Pollard has been criticized by students, faculty and the D.C. Council for the proliferation of university executives making $100,000-plus salaries and for spending $263,000 to renovate his residence while the campus deteriorated.

The university spent $79,225 on exterior repairs and $136,748 on interior renovations at the president’s 4,863-square-foot house, which has four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-bathrooms.

The renovation project included bills of roughly $90,000 for granite and marble countertops, $47,000 for a roof, $2,099 for a 52-inch Sony projection TV, $900 for a Bose home-theater system and $24,000 to replace carpets, The Times reported in September.

At UDC’s annual budget-oversight hearing Monday before the D.C. Council’s education committee, Mr. Pollard said the school had spent more than $13 million over the past two years to fix some of the maintenance problems on campus.

He requested reimbursement in the school’s next capital budget for the extra maintenance costs, and he asked for greater autonomy from the city is making spending decisions.

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