A last-minute attempt to prevent Benjamin H. Alexander from assuming the presidency of the University of the District of Columbia failed yesterday when a D.C. Superior Court judge refused to issue a temporary restraining order sought by five members of the UDC board of trustees.
The board members said they were trying to block the Sunday installation of Alexander because they believe the 15-member board acted improperly when it appointed him earlier this year.
The suit contended that allowing him to become the university's second president "will cause immediate and irreparable harm" to the school and the community.
However, D.C. Superior Court Judge Ronald P. Wertheim characterized the board members' case as "weak." After two hours of questioning both sides, he said further delay in settling UDC's leadership would do more harm to the public interest than allowing him to take office.
The suit sought both a temporary order blocking Alexander from taking office and a preliminary injunction requiring the school to reopen the search for a president.
No action was taken yesterday on the request for a preliminary injunction.
Ann M. Garfinkle, attorney for the unhappy board members, said she does not know whether that issue will be pursued.
More than a dozen members of UDC's faculty attended the two-hour court session yesterday afternoon.
On April 12, a suit similar to yesterday's was filed in D.C. Superior Court by more than 40 faculty members, some students and a school administrator. That suit was later dismissed by Wertheim on the grounds that only UDC board members would have the legal standing to bring such a case.
In yesterday's hearing Garfinkle argued that the board failed to follow its own bylaws and procedures in its decision to name Alexander, while E. Huntington Deming of the corporation counsel's office contended that the votes on Alexander were properly handled.
Deming told the judge Alexander should be permitted to assume his new post at UDC, adding that no one should "undo a process that has been going on for a long time."
The 60-year-old Alexander has been criticized by a number of people at UDC for his conservative views on education and for several controversial statements he has made about race.
The legal challenges to his appointment, however, have focused on questions of procedure, not philosophy.
Attorneys for UDC refused to comment on Wertheim's decision yesterday. But many of the plaintiffs and their supporters were quick to express their disappointment.
"This is certainly one of the most important decisions affecting the university since its creation," said Kelsy Jones, a UDC professor and chairman of its department of criminal justice.
He said the ruling leaves the faculty no choice but to play "power dynamics" to get what it needs rather appealing to the system. He did not elaborate.
Robert McNeil, a student member of the board, said he was "very disappointed."
Alexander could not be reached for comment.