University of the District of Columbia faculty members yesterday sharply criticized the ongoing search for a new university president, in an open letter apparently prompted by reports that Chicago educator Benjamin H. Alexander is one of the finalists for the job.
"There is anxiety that the committee is moving toward a decision which cannot be supported by the university community and the community-at-large," said the letter, which was endorsed by the Faculty Senate.
It also complained that faculty, students and alumni have not been kept informed about the search or given sufficient opportunity to voice their views of the various candidates for the job.
A key member of the Faculty Senate who asked not to be named said that faculty members were disturbed to learn that the 60-year-old Alexander, president of Chicago State University and an educational conservative who established proficiency exams and abolished no-fail grades at the Chicago school, is a finalist for the $59,000-a-year job.
Marjorie Parker, president of the UDC board of trustees, said Alexander "has been one of our leading candidates" and has been interviewed twice by the search committee. She said she had personally flown to Chicago to talk with him, and that search committee members also went to Chicago to talk with faculty members and students at Chicago State about Alexander.
Parker said the search committee will meet with the board of trustees on Wednesday to discuss the results of the search. She said she would be "very pleased" if the search committee decides to recommend Alexander, who formerly lived in Washington. Alexander once was a member of the D.C. school board and is a former chairman of the D.C. Federation of Civic Associations and of the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities.
In a telephone interview, Alexander confirmed that he had been approached concerning the position and said he would be interested in taking the job if it is offered.
An eight-member search committee has been looking for the past 18 months for a replacement for resigning UDC president Lisle C. Carter Jr. The committee was interested in former U.S. Interior Department official James Joseph, but Joseph took a job instead with the Council on Foundations.
Like the faculty members, UDC students also have expressed concern about Alexander, according to Robert McNeil, the student government representative to the UDC board of trustees. McNeil said he was concerned that Alexander had abolished the position of vice president for student affairs at Chicago State.
Alexander who has been Chicago State's president since 1974, said he eliminated the student affairs post after a consulting team recommended that the money used for certain administrative positions be reallocated "for academic purposes." The university has 7,200 students.
The Faculty Senate member who asked not to be named said UDC professors are concerned about some of the stands Alexander has taken.For example, earlier this month in a speech before the League of Federal Recreation Associations here Alexander suggested that black Americans stop calling themselves "blacks," which he said he believed set them apart. Instead, he said, they should think of themselves as "Americans of African heritage."
At times, Alexander has defended author Harriet Beecher Stowe's character Uncle Tom, whose name often is used by blacks and others as a derogatory epithet. Alexander has matained that the name has been applied wrongly to "describe any American of African heritage who refuses to communicate with rocks, bottles and four-letter words" and that the literary character actually demonstrated strength and courage.
Alexander, whose background is in chemistry, said he has had "little or no prior contact" with UDC. At Chicago State he expanded remedial courses and helped stiffen academic standards. "The very people who were opposed to me when I came in are my greatest supporters now," he said.