Board chairman says UDC may ask President Allen Sessoms to repay some airfare costs

Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 8, 2011; 10:27 PM

Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia may ask President Allen Sessoms to repay some of the money he spent on first-class airfare, the board chairman told D.C. Council members Tuesday in an occasionally heated oversight hearing on the school.

Council members chided Sessoms for the trips. They also faulted him for delivering incomplete travel records in response to a request from city officials. Sessoms, in turn, blamed poor record-keeping at the school.

"I do believe that when you've spent close to a million dollars on travel, you have to ask the question of what the university is actually getting," council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) said.

Since becoming UDC president in 2008, Sessoms has paid top dollar for first-class airfare on several occasions, according to expense records released last week by the university. Tuesday's meeting, scheduled as a routine hearing, turned into a forum on presidential travel. The trips have been a matter of escalating controversy this month, prompting a student protest Monday.

Under questioning from council members, university leaders said UDC policy would not normally cover the costs of luxury accommodations such as first-class travel.

"What I'm hearing is it's not appropriate, and yet first-class travel was taken," council member Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) said during her questioning of the UDC board chairman, Joseph Askew.

"Yes," Askew replied. He said that the board had requested an internal audit and that the findings are expected by month's end. Sessoms has said he, too, asked for an audit.

"If it is found that the president has flown first-class, unless he has the authorization to do as such, then the board will have to consider whether the president will have to reimburse the institution for flying first-class," Askew said.

Sessoms has said that he buys relatively costly refundable tickets to accommodate an ever-changing schedule and that he flies first-class on a doctor's recommendation. He has circulatory problems in his legs.

"For long flights, I have to have my leg elevated," he said. "The doctors tell me it has to, in fact, be above my heart."

Some council members challenged that rationale.

"There is bulkhead seating in the coach area. There is business class," Alexander said. ". . . That is not a valid excuse for me."

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