University of the District of Columbia President Robert L. Green, decrying what he said was unfair treatment at the hands of the press and the D.C. auditor, defended his spending practices yesterday in a speech at the opening convocation of the university's faculty and staff.
Telling the audience of several hundred at the UDC auditorium that "I am not a perfect president," Green said he was looking for ways to improve his administration and invited faculty and staff to talk with him personally about questions raised about his administration by the D.C. auditor and the news media.
"Come up to the third floor and look at the catering bills," he said. "Look at any of the other bills. Look at the consulting bills."
Green dwelled at length on several areas of the controversy that has developed around him, forwarding a defense against criticism of his handling of travel and catering expenses, his purchase of furnishings for the university-owned president's residence and his hiring of consultants.
Green criticized the city's two major daily newspapers for not giving his staff enough time to respond to information before going to press with it, and lambasted D.C. Auditor Otis H. Troupe for including an erroneous allegation of double-billing for travel in a draft audit.
Reaction to Green's speech was mixed. He was interrupted by enthusiastic applause when he spoke of the new urban research institute he has established at UDC. The applause he received at the end of the speech was somewhat more reserved.
Constance Morris Hope, the history department chairman, said she thought Green's speech was "very strong."
"I was pleased he laid out the facts, at least on those issues that he dealt with," she said. "He was firm in his presentation. I felt that he was able to present to the faculty a feeling of confidence . . . . I think he exhibited the qualities of leadership that we need here at UDC."
George Zachariah, a UDC philosophy professor who heads the Faculty Association, said the president's remarks were "not really convincing . . . . He has partially answered some things. But the partial truth can be very distorting, you know. Our reading is that he really has not responded to the charges."
The UDC president's remarks largely restated assertions he made July 29 in a report entitled "Expenditures of the Office of the President" presented to the UDC Board of Trustees in response to earlier reports by the auditor and in the media.
In his first address to the university's staff and faculty since the questions about his presidency were raised, Green took the occasion of the academic year's opening convocation to express high hopes for the coming year and said he wanted to talk in an "open and candid way" to members of the university community.
The speech came one day after the release of Troupe's final audit of the president's representation fund, in which the auditor concluded Green should repay almost $13,000 he allegedly misspent.
In a television interview Thursday, the UDC president said he "strongly disagreed" with the report's findings.
He declined to comment further on the audit after the speech yesterday.
Green's appeal to the faculty and staff also came as various groups at the university were moving to take a position on his presidency.
Alonza T. Evans, president of the UDC Alumni Association, said Thursday night that Green should take a leave of absence until questions about his spending are resolved.
Meanwhile, the university's 15-member board of trustees is divided on the issue, with at least five members in favor of Green's ouster, trustees have said in interviews.
In addition, faculty sources said yesterday they expect the Faculty Senate soon will convene a meeting of the whole faculty, whose members may then take a vote on the question of Green's presidency.
Green's defense yesterday centered on questions surrounding his travel, receptions, residence furnishings and use of consultants.
He deplored "anonymous mail" and an information "hemorrhage" that, he said, resulted in reporters calling his staff late in the day with questions he lacked information about.
"A weak and uninformed defense," said Green, "is no defense."
The UDC president said he had been aware of an erroneous allegation of double-billing contained in Troupe's draft audit of the representation fund and had urged Troupe to remove it. Sources close to Troupe said Green, who had been asked for the documents over a period of several months, provided documents refuting the charge just hours before the draft audit was completed.
Green recalled, "He said, 'Don't worry, it's only a draft audit.' " Green said published reports of the double-billing put him at a disadvantage.
Troupe, who has not yet completed his examination of UDC spending, later retracted the double-billing charge.
"As you well know, there is no such thing as a draft report in Washington, D.C.," Green said. "A report is a report . . . and sure enough the report was released and it was published in the paper."
Green defended the consultants he hired as "productive" and cited in particular consultants he described as instrumental in the formation of the university's new Center for Applied Research and Urban Policy.
Green also took issue with an account that appeared in The Washington Post reporting that he had amassed a $83,000 catering tab over a 21-month period, substantially more than the amounts spent by two other Washington area public university presidents.
Green asserted the report was misleading because catering costs for other administrative departments were included in the amount. In a fact sheet issued by his office, he noted that the president's office paid the bill for the other departments.
Explaining the numerous receptions held by his office and the others, he said the activities contributed to the university's fund-raising efforts and added, "There was an effort at that time to get to know people, to get together."
The Post's report was based on documents, supplied by Green's administration in response to The Post's request for the president's catering expenses, which showed $83,000 was spent by Green's office.
High administration sources have said Green encouraged receptions among the various departments. After his speech yesterday, Green said in the future the other administrative offices would have their own catering budgets.
Green then turned his attention to the furnishings he and his wife Lettie purchased for the president's residence, which, The Post reported, cost $38,945.
Green said $34,000 worth of furnishings were bought after he and staff members of the D.C. Department of Administrative Services estimated it would cost $12,000 a year to continue to rent furniture.
The purchases, he said, saved the university money in the long run.