Wearing black academic caps and gowns, 35 alumni of the University of the District of Columbia marched yesterday through downtown Washington to protest a Senate subcommittee's refusal so far to release funds to build the university's planned downtown campus.
Their first stop was the site of the planned campus, a stretch of cleared land at Ninth Street and Mount Vernon Place NW.
Carrying signs saying "Build our campus in the heart of our city" and "Release UDC's funds now," the alumni gathered there and took turns explaining why the university needs a downtown campus in addition to its campus at Van Ness Street and Connecticut Avenue NW in upper Northwest Washington.
"The majority of students come from Anacostia and Northeast sections of the city," said Joseph Webb, president of the UDC alumni association and a school administrator at the Franklin adult education center. "They have a long, long commute to the Van Ness campus. They need a downtown campus."
If the Senate subcommittee does not release funds for the downtown campus by October, the money will be returend to the U.S. Treasury. If that happens, Webb said, "We will lose years of waiting, and we will have to start again with our testimony."
Last year, Congress approved $56.7 million for the downtown campus, but said none of the money could be spent until a new master plan for the university was approved by the mayor, City Council and the appropriations committees of the Senate and House.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), chairman of the District of Columbia appropriations subcommittee, has held up the funds. He has questioned whether enrollment projections in the university's master plan are too high and that there may not be a need for another campus.
He has also suggested that the university can build additional classroom space in the future on vacant land next to the present Van Ness campus.
The protesters did not agree, "We simply have to remind Sen. Leahy that UDC belongs to D.C. We have the right to decide where our school buildings should be built," said William Simons, president of the Washington Teachers' Union, who joined the protesters at the site of the planned campus.
The alumni then marched through downtown Washington to the District Building, causing traffic to slow down behind them. After another round of speeches they marched to the Capitol where Webb exhorted tourists to encourage their congressmen to "release funds for our downtown campus."
About half the protesting alumni said they attended UDC years after they graduated from high school. They had worked as postal clerks, maids, and clerk typists. Since graduation many of them have risen in the ranks of the bureaucracies of the city school system and federal government.
Webb went to college right after high school. He received his master's degree two years after graduation from college. Now, he is a school administrator.
"I grew up in the projects," he said, as he walked along Pennsylvania Avenue, his white gown billowing about him. "There is only one thing that separates me from the folks in the projects playing card games or the young girls there getting pregnant. That is my education."
The new University of the District of Columbia was created in 1977 by a merger of the District's three low-cost public colleges Federal City College, Washington Technical Institute and D.C. Teachers College.
This year the university has 13,647 students. About two-thirds attend part-time. CAPTION: Picture, University of District of Columbia alumni walk past District Building in protest over Senate delay. By Ellsworth Davis - The Washington Post