- The Washington Times - Friday, February 6, 2004

Investigators for the D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics yesterday recommended dismissing the ethics case against the president of the University of the District of Columbia, saying he did not show favoritism in hiring a family friend as the school’s provost.

The Office of Campaign Finance, the investigative arm of the ethics board, concluded that UDC President William L. Pollard had broad discretion in selecting the school’s executive officers and that his choice for provost was adequately screened by an independent selection committee.

The Board of Elections in July began investigating Mr. Pollard’s hiring of family friend Wilhelmina Reuben-Cooke as provost and vice president of academic affairs after reports in The Washington Times about her qualifications and other matters at the District’s land grant university.

Mr. Pollard “did not give preferential treatment or appear to give preferential treatment to Reuben-Cooke when he appointed her to the position of UDC Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs because [he] authorized a formal search and selection committee,” Kathy S. Williams, general counsel for the Office of Campaign Finance, said in a report released yesterday.

In addition, Mr. Pollard “did not make a government decision outside of official channels when he hired Reuben-Cooke … because he selected [her] in accordance with UDC regulations,” Ms. Williams said in the report.

UDC faculty have criticized Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s hiring for the $137,000-a-year job because she:

• Holds a “juris doctor” or law degree, not an “earned doctorate or equivalent terminal degree” as advertised for the post.

• Has only 18 months of administrative experience, not the “established record as a senior academic administrator” as advertised for the job.

• Was hired after Mr. Pollard last April submitted her name to the nine members of the selection committee, which already had recommended seven candidates for the position.

Mr. Pollard befriended Mrs. Reuben-Cooke and her husband, D.C. lawyer Edmund D. Cooke, more than a decade ago when they worked at Syracuse University.

In her report, Ms. Williams recommends that the ethics case against Mr. Pollard be dismissed because:

• The selection committee’s review of Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s resume was “substantively similar” to that of the other candidates.

• The selection panel “was alone responsible for ascertaining the experience, training and credentials for all applicants.”

• The committee recognized Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s law degree as an “earned doctorate.”

Meredith Rode, a UDC professor of mass media and performing arts, was a member of the selection committee and filed a complaint with the Board of Elections in July about Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s hiring. She objected to the committee’s process, citing favoritism and inappropriate influence by Mr. Pollard.

But other members of the selection committee, who were interviewed in the ethics probe, said there was no undue influence or favoritism in the process. Those members include committee Chairman Rachel Petty, dean of the college of arts and sciences; biology professor Freddie Dixon; chemistry and physics professor Norman Kondo; engineering professor Abiose Adebayo; and Vijaya Melnic, director of the UDC Office of Sponsored Research.

“I’m very disappointed with the [committee],” Mrs. Rode said upon learning of the investigative report last night.

The committee members submitted to investigators affidavits attesting that a juris doctor degree is equivalent to a research doctorate.

According to Black’s Law Dictionary (Seventh Edition), the juris doctor is “the law degree most commonly conferred by an American law school.” Black’s notes two law degrees more advanced than the J.D. — the LL.M., or the master of laws degree, and the J.S.D., or the doctor of juridical science degree.

David Baum, assistant dean of students for the University of Michigan Law School — Mrs. Reuben-Cooke’s alma mater — told The Times in August that “the juris doctor is not the same as a traditional higher-education doctorate degree, such as a Ph.D.”

“The juris doctorate is a professional degree,” said Mr. Baum, who holds the degree.

The U.S. Network for Education Information, an information and referral service operated by the National Library of Education, draws a distinction between a professional degree, such as a J.D., and a research doctorate, or Ph.D.

“Several of the [professional degrees] incorporate the term ‘doctor,’ but they are not research doctorates and not equivalent to the Ph.D.,” according to the network.

As UDC’s top academic officer, Mrs. Reuben-Cooke makes decisions on academic policy, hiring, promotions and granting of tenure to faculty member, many of whom hold research doctorates.

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