Friday, March 18, 2011; 12:37 PM
IT'S UNCLEAR whether the travel expenses for which University of the District of Columbia President Allen L. Sessoms has come under recent fire can be justified. What's perfectly clear, though, is that in two years Mr. Sessoms has brought refreshing leadership and needed change to the city's long-beleaguered public university. To avoid jeopardizing that progress, it's critical that the UDC board of trustees complete its review of the travel issues and take appropriate action to reassure the public that the institution is being appropriately governed.
Controversy has arisen over reports, first aired by WTTG (Channel 5), that Mr. Sessoms has engaged in extravagant travel to exotic locations. Mr. Sessoms defended his actions; all trips were for university business, some were reimbursed by him or other entities, and a medical condition requires him to travel first-class on long trips. His explanations have not been completely satisfactory, given what he admits has been poor record-keeping by the university. Then, too, there's the contrast, as noted by The Post's Daniel de Vise in a recent blog post, with the somewhat more conservative travel of other university presidents. But it is to Mr. Sessoms's credit that - before the charges became public - he requested an audit of his travel. A committee of the board of trustees is overseeing that effort, which is expected to be completed by the end of this month. Officials told us the results would be made public.
It's appropriate, then, that there not be - as some members of the D.C. Council seemed to want at a recent public grilling of Mr. Sessoms - a rush to judgment. Since taking over as president two years ago, Mr. Sessoms has brought much-needed - albeit not always popular - changes to UDC. He strengthened academic standards, raised tuition, challenged a faculty protective of its interests, and sought to weed out wasteful and inefficient programs. Most significant was his bold launch of a community college that aims to fill a critical void in the District.
We are not suggesting that the good work done by Mr. Sessoms is an excuse for poor use of university resources. Surely, though, it's reason to give him the benefit of the doubt while the facts are being determined.