UDC president's expenses questioned

Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Expense records for Allen Sessoms, president of the University of the District of Columbia, show a pattern of first-class air travel and thousand-dollar plane tickets over the past two years.

Sessoms said that all of the trips were for university business. He said that he buys comparatively pricey refundable tickets because his schedule often changes at the last minute and that he favors first class because of leg problems.

"You negotiate to the lowest refundable first-class ticket," said Sessoms, president of Washington's public university since 2008. "It's all receipted, all above-board."

The expenses, first reported by WTTG (Channel 5), have raised eyebrows in city government. The TV report cited a $7,952 "seat bed" ticket to Cairo, a $1,443 ticket to Boston, and a trip for Sessoms, his wife and two children to a conference in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Sessoms said the Egypt trip was a visit to a UDC program at a university in Maadi, "basically to make sure the program is functioning," with all travel expenses covered by the Egyptian school.

Sessoms said he refunded the Boston ticket for a cheaper one. He said the university covered only his expenses for the Wyoming trip, not those of his family members.

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Sessoms's total compensation for fiscal 2008-09 was $315,650. He drives a Lincoln Navigator and lives in a $1.6 million house in Northwest Washington, all paid for by the university, according to WTTG.

The D.C. Council might question Sessoms on Tuesday at a scheduled oversight hearing. "I imagine there's going to be some questioning on these points," said council member Mary M. Cheh (D), whose Ward 3 district includes Van Ness and the UDC headquarters. "It certainly raises questions, both the amounts and the trips."

Sessoms said that in response to the inquiries, he requested an internal audit of his business and travel expenses a month ago. The report will be delivered to the university's board. Board Chairman Joseph Askew said in a statement that the panel "certainly has an interest" in the expenses but that "prior to passing any judgment on the President's travel, it is only prudent and fair that it look further into the expenses" to determine their legitimacy.

Sessoms's expenses include several airfares well above market rates, including at least three flights to Los Angeles costing more than $1,500 apiece. He is on the board of Chapman University in Orange, Calif. He said that most of his flights were considerably less expensive.

The Egypt trip included a side visit to the United Kingdom, where Sessoms said he visited the University of Sunderland, which has a partnership with UDC.

Most of the other trips were for academic conferences, he said.

"This is a guy who works 24/7 and has transformed the university over the last three years," said Shelley Broderick, dean of the UDC law school.

"This characterization that he's traipsing the globe with caviar and champagne is silly," said Alan Etter, a university spokesman. "It's false, and it's silly."

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