- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 15, 2004

The University of the District of Columbia’s Faculty Senate has recommended placing the school’s intercollegiate sports program on a four-year probation because of “major violations and improprieties” in the athletics department.

Other actions recommended by the faculty leaders include reducing the number of athletic scholarships awarded by the land-grant university, placing a moratorium on postseason play during the probation and conducting a “thorough evaluation” of all of the athletic department staff, according to a report by the senate’s athletics committee.

The 34-member UDC Senate, a governing body composed of faculty elected from each academic department, last week voted unanimously to endorse the committee report, recommending the corrective and punitive measures.

The Washington Times obtained a copy of the Senate report.

The recommendations come in response to reports of academically ineligible students playing on UDC teams, misuse of financial-aid funds and mismanagement of proceeds from ticket and concessions sales at Firebirds games, according to university officials close to the athletics program.

The same concerns have spurred a probe by the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), which sent investigators to the campus in November to question the school’s legal counsel and athletics officials. The investigation’s findings have not been made public.

Last summer, the NCAA penalized the Firebirds men’s soccer team for using ineligible players. The university had to forfeit nearly every men’s soccer game played last season, including the team’s appearance in the NCAA Division II tournament — the school’s first postseason appearance since the women’s basketball team qualified in 1995.

The NCAA last year also cited the school for ineligible students playing on the men’s basketball team.

The university’s “athletics program is in a state of disarray,” according to the senate report. It said UDC President William L. Pollard’s administration had ignored the “long-standing problems” in the sports program.

“The prevailing mentality relative to the athletic program is, ‘If you don’t get caught, it does not matter,’” the report said.

Members of the senate’s athletic committee have complained that Mr. Pollard failed to act when told about the problems shortly after he became president in July 2002. They also criticized Mr. Pollard for boasting about the prowess of UDC’s teams in August, even as the NCAA was sanctioning the Firebirds’ soccer and basketball teams.

“The current environment encourages violations and creates problems,” the senate report said.

A spokesman for Mr. Pollard said yesterday the administration responded promptly to sports violations, including identifying ineligible players on the soccer and basketball teams last season.

“We are the ones who found the problems, and we are the ones who reported it to the NCAA,” said spokesman Mike Andrews.

However, two of the ineligible players on the basketball team were reported by the senate’s athletics committee in a July 24 letter to the NCAA.

At the school’s annual budget oversight hearing last Monday before the D.C. Council’s education committee, Mr. Pollard announced the creation of an athletic compliance committee for NCAA rules.

Still, UDC Senate President Sydney O. Hall yesterday said the new committee raised more questions than it answered.

“It’s confusing because we are already supposed to have one,” said Mr. Hall, a longtime education professor. “The NCAA mandates you have a compliance program, and for the university to be working without one for all these years is another problem. Why didn’t we have one in place?”

Mr. Andrews said Mr. Pollard was attempting to fix problems that predate his administration. “These long-standing problems need to be corrected one at a time, and the administration is taking corrective action in all appropriate areas,” he said.

Improprieties in the athletics programs are the latest in a series of problems at the District’s only public institution of higher education, which in past years has struggled with financial mismanagement, poor academic performance and accreditation concerns.

Since taking the helm 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 D.C. Inspector General is investigating whether the theft of financial records at UDC is connected to the renovation of the president’s residence. Results of the investigation are expected early next month.

The financial probe came after a city ethics investigation into possible cronyism in the president’s hiring of family friend Wilhelmina M. Reuben-Cooke as provost and vice president of academic affairs. Early this month, investigators for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics recommended dismissing the ethics case.

However, faculty leaders at the land-grant university remain opposed to Mrs. Reuben-Cooke, who they say lacks the requisite doctoral degree and administrative experience necessary for the $137,000-a-year job as the school’s top academic officer.

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