Board Chairwoman Elaine A. Crider read a brief statement shortly after 9:30 p.m. announcing the termination of Sessoms. She thanked him for his service but added that as UDC grapples with “the challenges of reducing staff and programs, continuing to improve our physical plant and attracting new students, the board has decided to go in a different direction.”
Alan Etter, a UDC spokesman, said that 11 trustees voted to terminate Sessoms and that two abstained. The identities of the two who abstained were not immediately known.
Crider and other trustees declined to answer questions about the decision after the meeting. Sessoms, who had been present when the trustees convened hours earlier, was not there when his firing was announced.
The abrupt leadership transition, due in part to fiscal and political pressures, comes as the school is in the middle of the academic year.
A temporary replacement will be named within two days, the university said in a statement.
By mid-January, the board plans to name an interim president who would serve for six to 18 months while it conducts a national search for a permanent replacement.
Hired in summer 2008, Sessoms came to UDC after serving five years as president of Delaware State University. His mandate was to revive a public university that had struggled for years to raise its academic reputation amid financial problems and political neglect.
UDC trustees hailed him at the time as “a proven change agent” — a physicist with a Yale University doctorate who had established doctoral programs at Delaware State, boosted enrollment at that historically black university and raised its endowment.
In 2009, Sessoms launched a major reorganization of UDC, creating a separate two-year community college and raising tuition and admissions standards for four-year students. His goal was to strengthen bachelor’s degree programs and position UDC to operate as a public university that might someday reach the level of flagship schools in the states.
Federal data show that UDC had about 4,900 students as of fall 2011. Low graduation rates are a perennial issue. About 8 percent of students pursuing a bachelor’s degree who started at the school in fall 2005 graduated within six years, the data show. Many transferred to other schools or dropped out.
Full-time undergraduate tuition at UDC has risen from $5,370 in 2009 to $7,244 this year.
In 2011, Sessoms came under fire for expense reports that showed a pattern of flying first class on UDC business. He said at the time that he needed to buy expensive, refundable tickets because of an unpredictable work schedule and that he needed first class seats becaue of circulatory problems in his legs.
In October, Sessoms and Crider made public a plan to shrink the university’s faculty and staff, eliminate several degree programs and move its community college from North Capitol Street back to the main Connecticut Avenue campus.
The plan, which would cut at least 25 positions out of a workforce of 650 to 680 in the university’s unrestricted budget, was meant to address chronic fiscal troubles.
Sessoms’s contract had been due to expire on Aug. 31, 2013. His annual base salary was $295,000.