Misplaced Priorities At UDC

Students from the University of the District of Columbia protest proposed changes at the school on Feb. 10.
Students from the University of the District of Columbia protest proposed changes at the school on Feb. 10. (By Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
  Enlarge Photo     Buy Photo
By Alesha Jones
Sunday, February 15, 2009

Last year, when I heard that Allen Sessoms had been appointed president of the University of the District of Columbia, I had hopes that he would improve UDC and the fractured relationship between students and the school administration. I read about his plans for an overhaul of the university and its infrastructure, and I was pleased that he would be an agent of change at my troubled alma mater -- that is, until I read about his proposed changes ["A Degree of Agitation in UDC Transformation," Metro, Feb. 10].

Sessoms is proposing to split UDC into two schools, one for four-year students and a community college for the rest. He also wants to increase tuition from about $3,800 to $7,000 a year for District residents seeking four-year degrees. In a recent meeting with student representatives opposing the proposed tuition increase, Sessoms said, "$3,000 isn't a lot of money." But $3,000 is a lot of money for many of the people in this city, who need access to a quality education at an affordable price.

Sessoms also plans to offer severance packages to longtime faculty members who have been at the school for 30 years or more. They could accept a one-time payment if they agreed to resign before the end of this academic year, and they would be given $45,000 or half of their salary, whichever is less. But is $45,000 worth losing decades of knowledge and mentoring? Certainly there are professors and employees of the university who should retire. But I sincerely hope that Sessoms does not force this plan on those professors or administrators who are considered the foundations of their departments.

My history at UDC extends far beyond my attendance there. Several people in my family attended and graduated from Washington Technical Institute and the University of the District of Columbia. I earned my bachelor of arts degree in mass media there, volunteered for activities and organizations at the school, and have maintained relationships with students and employees. Since graduating in 2004, I have seen much improvement in student life and community relations at UDC.

While many of the physical and educational facets of UDC do need repair (buildings, curriculum and retention, for example), the fragility of student-administration trust needs the most attention. The presidency at UDC has been a revolving door for many years, and most presidents have not endured the political and social challenges of the job. Sessoms has an obligation as a leader to listen to the people he represents.

The president of UDC should be more careful with his words and actions during this critical time at the school. Making such unprecedented changes without student consideration would further fracture or destroy the trust between students and the administration. I implore Sessoms to listen to his students and alumni, to reconsider his proposals, and to focus first on rebuilding the relationship of students and administration before making any drastic changes.

-- Alesha Jones


© 2009 The Washington Post Company