Now that Robert Green has been forced to resign as president of the University of the District of Columbia, it is tempting to think that a dynamic and effective new president, like a knight in shining armor, will solve the university's problems. It's a temptation that we should avoid: Bob Green was only a part of UDC's problem.
While Green's fall from grace exposed the blatant political cronyism on the board and within the administration that needs urgent redress, a more hidden but equally damaging problem is the deep conflict over the university's mission that has divided faculty, residents and City Council members.
Charges of cronyism initially arose when Mayor Marion Barry handpicked 11 of the board's 15 trustees, including Herbert O. Reid Sr., his legal counsel and personal troubleshooter. Later, the mayor sent Dwight Cropp to work part time as an assistant to Green. Shortly after Green became president in September 1983, he made Cropp a UDC vice president and Cropp's old office hired a friend of Green's and a relative of a UDC board member for positions in the District Building.
"This is politicization of an institution in ways unprecedented in modern times," one UDC insider remarked this week.
While cronyism is a natural part of politics, it can be a dangerous game that can destroy the educational values of a university; indeed, cronyism begets cronyism. When politicians are granted the right to appoint a majority of the board of an institution of higher learning, the temptation is to make those appointments based on loyalty rather than solely on competence and ability. By selecting individuals, in some cases, on a political basis, Barry turned UDC into just another patronage slot.
The primary reason the UDC administration was able to become larded with cronyism in the first place was that the university lacked an appropriate system of checks and balances to prevent it. That is why the role of D.C. Auditor Otis H. Troupe is so important. It was in part a fiscal check by Troupe that brought to light Green's misspending of thousands of dollars in university funds. Appointed by the City Council chairman, Troupe is not under the mayor's thumb and provides an important check on the mayor's power from within the government.
A similar procedure needs to be instituted at UDC. One obvious mechanism could be to rewrite UDC's charter so that both the City Council and the mayor would have to concur on the selection and appointment of members of the UDC Board of Trustees -- and even its new president.
Yet as important as those steps are, they will have little impact on UDC unless a basic philosophical rift is healed. UDC was formed in 1977 with the merging of staid old D.C. Teachers College, the Washington Technical Institute and the progressive liberal arts institution, Federal City College. The merging of this unlikely triumvirate has left a legacy of deep division. Eight years later, faculty members still identify themselves as "FCC," "WTI" or "DCTC." The result is faculty infighting and turf battles in which one unit often is pitted against another.
Underlying that discord is divisive conflict over UDC's mission. Some council members think the university should just be a vocational institution for poor kids and don't feel students from east of the Anacostia River need an opportunity for higher education. Some faculty members, on the other hand, despise the fact that UDC is an open admissions university. "It is a class clash that is a 1985 version of the W.E.B. DuBois -- Booker T. Washington argument over technical training versus liberal arts education for the poor," said one UDC administrator.
"We have to create some kind of new thrust where the faculty forgets the university where they used to work and looks at where we are going in terms of UDC," said a faculty member. If UDC is to ever thrive as one of Washington's premier educational institutions, faculty members, administrators, City Council members and the mayor must all reach agreement on the university's mission and rededicate themselves to fulfilling its goals.
Whatever the origin of UDC's problems, for many young people in this city UDC represents the only hope for a brighter future. A knight in shining armor alone cannot help them, but a solid educational institution, unencumbered by politics, could improve their lives.