UDC's new campus, which opened for the fall semester, is a cluster of 10 beige buildings at the corner of Van Ness Street and Connecticut Avenue NW. Constructed at a cost of $87.5 million, the new buildings will accommodate three of UDC's academic colleges and 70 percent of the classes attended by its 14,115 students. The new campus also brings together nearly all of UDC's administrative units.

A week of opening festivities will begin Sunday, with formal ceremonies scheduled for Monday at 9 a.m. See Page 8

As UDC officials, faculty members and students settle into their new campus, the university confronts a series of questions about its future.

Foremost in the minds of many at UDC, interviews with students, faculty and administrators reveal, is the question of identity -- what role the District's public university is to play in the academic achievement of its students and in the life of the city.

Created by a merger of D.C. Teachers College, Federal City College and Washington Technical Institute, the university is trying to figure out how best to serve its unique urban population, how to fight the image of being the "university for dumb children" because of its open admissions policy, and how to reduce the school's high attrition rate.

The newness and aura of disorganization which seemed to plague the university for several years are wearing off, officials said.

"I think the university is finally getting a positive image," said Dr. Jesse King, vice chairman of the board of trustees. He adds that too many people expected instant success and compared the fledgling UDC with established institutions like Howard and American universities.

Now the school is moving into its own, King says, with its wide range of course offerings and its efforts to reach out into the community by offering classes at such places as the Lorton Reformatory and Bolling Air Force Base.

But the leadership of the university remains a key question.

UDC has a lame-duck administration that it will have to replace. The school's first president, Lisle C. Carter, announced last year that he would not renew his contract next fall, and a search committee is now trying to determine what type of leader it wants for the future.

In addition, the post of vice president for academic affairs is vacant, the vice president for student affairs will soon take a job with the Reagan administration, and there is an opening for dean of the College of Education and Human Ecology.

At the moment, UDC is also without student leadership.

Last year, said Robert McNeil, a student representative on the UDC board of trustees, the board "pressured students to hold an election within 30 days" in violation of the Student Government Association's constitution. He said an election was held in March but was aborted because of low student participation.

Board member King, who also heads the committee on student affairs, said, "the students couldn't get it together." These conflicts with the board precipitated the dissolution of the SGA and the board formed an ad hoc committee that is now attempting to reactivate the organization.

And despite the opening of the new campus, the university continues to struggle with the city and with Congress to get additional classroom and office space. The 30 percent of students and faculty who are not at Van Ness are still working out of old buildings at Georgia and Harvard streets and at 9th and E streets NW.

The opening of the new campus is perhaps the brightest spot in UDC's develop ment. The new campus is "good for morale," said John Britton, spokesman for the school, reflecting a widespread view that the lack of a main campus robbed the school of a sense of unity. The completion of the new buildings, said university president Carter, is "a physical translation of what we've been working for for so long . . . for me that's been the biggest thrill."

Students interviewed seemed pleased with the campus, though many said they were still getting lost on their way to class. Angela Sazon, a sophomore who said she is interested in seeing students become more cohesive, said the Van Ness location will "most definitely help with student communications."

University officials said they hope the finishing touches on the buildings will be completed by the end of December. An added bonus for students and faculty is the anticipated opening of the Van Ness Street Metro subway stop in December.

Heretofore, the university has existed in old and often inadequate facilities scattered around the city, including a few old Bureau of Standards buildings at Van Ness. Edward Holland, acting associate vice president of administration, said he feared that skyrocketing rental fees in privately owned buildings are adding to the administration's headaches. For example, Holland said, the rent for a building used by the science department at 1321 H Street NW jumped from $5.53 a square foot last year to $17.21 this year.

Though the modern 10-building campus is complete with an indoor pool, a practice field, an amphitheater, science labs and a library, it will house only 70 percent of the university's classes and 90 percent of the administrators.

The campus now includes the colleges of Liberal and Fine Arts, Life Sciences and Physical Science, Engineering and Technology, and the University College. The colleges of Business and Public Management and Education and Human Ecology are still downtown.

The 21 acres upon which the new campus sits were originally deeded to the city for educational purposes and the new buildings were designed for Washington Technical Institute. The architectural plans later caused problems, said Holland, because they were based on an open-space model that called for open laboratories instead of smaller classrooms and offices. Remodeling the inside of the buildings has created delays and resulted in at least $16 million in cost-overruns, he said.

Even now, says Holland of the shortage of space, "It's like putting 10 pounds of potatoes in a five pound bag." For instance, he said, there is no indoor student activity space for the students. ". . . We're going to be in trouble when winter comes," he said.

In an attempt to save money, fabric-covered partitions are used to divide office space in many buildings. UDC employes said the partitions offer little privacy. The blue, orange and beige room dividers give the offices a crowded, confusing and temporary look. Holland agrees, but says the administrators are "making the best of a bad situation."

The fight for additional space goes back many years. As early as 1967, the city planned to build a downtown campus for public higher education in a four-block area just north of Mount Vernon Square. In 1979, however, that plan was opposed by Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who chaired the District appropriations subcommittee. Leahy was concerned that UDC student enrollment would drop after the buildings had been built.

The subcommittee also preferred to develop one central location for the university by expanding the existing Van Ness campus. "It's become evident that's not feasible," said Ron Brown, a UDC trustee and head of the committee for future facilities. Brown says the land opposite the new campus that Congress was hoping to use for UDC belongs to the federal government, and the state department plans to use the property for new foreign embassies.

"There are negotiations going on with the District government over a compromise plan that would permit construction of a new campus," Brown said this week. The compromise most likely will allow for the building of university as well as commercial space at Mount Vernon Square, Brown said.

He added that Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-NY), the new chairman of the District appropriations subcommittee, "seems to be in favor (of the downtown campus) if we come up with something reasonably sound."

Next week: A look at UDC's leadership and faculty.