Rafael L. Cortada, the new president of the University of the District of Columbia, has drawn up a plan to create a two-year community college within the city university, and said he expects to present the proposal to university trustees by the end of next month.
The new open admissions college, tentatively named for Benjamin Banneker, the black mathematician and surveyor who helped lay out the city of Washington, would be part of a university system that also would include four-year colleges with selective admissions and a graduate center.
A draft of the plan has been circulated for comment among faculty leaders and administrators since shortly after Cortada took over as UDC president on Oct. 1. "It's open to input from the community," Cortada said in an interview. But he added that he hopes the plan will be acted on quickly so that the reorganization will be in effect when the university's next academic year begins in September 1988.
The plan carries out Cortada's view, first expressed last spring, that a major restructuring of the city's 10-year-old university is necessary to provide District students with the same "range of options" in higher education enjoyed by residents of every state while "protecting the integrity" of UDC's four-year bachelor's degree.
At present, UDC's two-year associate degree and technical programs are offered in the same five academic schools as the four-year programs, which has led to a "blurring of functions," Cortada said. Enrollment throughout the university has dropped by one third during the past eight years, including a 13 percent decline this fall.
In his first three weeks as UDC president, Cortada also has:Carried out a major shakeup of top administrators, prompting some criticism from faculty and trustees. Expressed support for retaining and improving the university's troubled intercollegiate football program.
Indicated that he will press for construction of UDC buildings on the full four square blocks originally purchased for the university at Mount Vernon Square. Such a move would be a departure from the university's strategy of the last five years to obtain private financing from developers in exchange for an agreement to share the site with commercial buildings. In 1980, after UDC's enrollment began to slide, Congress denied public funds for the project.
Cortada was named president last November -- the fourth in UDC's history -- but remained until June at his previous job as head of a large community college just outside Los Angeles. He came to UDC as a full-time consultant in mid-July.
Although faculty groups have not yet taken an official stand on Cortada's reorganization proposal, the new president has won warm praise from Emanuel Chatman, the president of the Faculty Senate. Chatman had clashed with Acting President Claude A. Ford, who laid off about 10 percent of the faculty during the summer because of the enrollment decline.
UDC's previous president, Robert L. Green, resigned two years ago amid allegations of misusing funds, which are the subject of probes by a federal grand jury and the FBI.
"I think it's a new day," Chatman said. "We'll have to keep an eye out, but what we've seen of Cortada so far is quite pleasing. He has discussed his plans with various leaders of the faculty and support seems to be building . . . .
"This place had gotten out of control," Chatman continued. "Everybody was pointing fingers at everybody else. Now I think things will be better. We certainly can't stand to have them get worse."
However, one of Cortada's major personnel actions -- the appointment of Charles I. Cassell as acting vice president for administrative services -- has stirred controversy. Cassell, a former member of the D.C. Board of Education and former president of the D.C. Statehood Convention, replaced Edward G. Holland Jr., who was detailed for three months to be a program development officer in continuing education.
At the statehood convention in 1982, Cassell had a bitter dispute with D.C. Council member Hilda H.M. Mason (Statehood-At Large), who now oversees UDC's budget as head of the council's education committee.
Holland, one of the few whites in a high-level administrative post at UDC, had clashed repeatedly with Cassell, an architect whose job as chief of UDC's facilities development was downgraded last year as part of an administrative cutback. After the change, Cassell, 63, charged Holland, 40, with race and age discrimination, but the complaint was rejected by the university's office of equal employment opportunity.
Cassell then filed the discrimination charges with the D.C. Office of Human Rights, which investigated but made no ruling before Cassell was promoted by Cortada. Cassell said he dropped the complaint a few days after he took his new post "because the relief I sought has been achieved."
Meanwhile, during the past year Holland has been the target of a series of anonymous letters, alleging "extreme racism" and corruption. The letters have been cited in three stories in the Washington Afro-American newspaper. But Holland was strongly supported by Ford and N. Joyce Payne, the chairman of the UDC board of trustees.
In an interview, Payne called Holland "a man of integrity" who has made "some enormous contributions to the university." She added, "I am not familiar with Mr. Cassell's qualifications." Another trustee, Daniel Fivel, said the replacement of Holland by Cassell was "shocking."
Cortada said there was "no substance" to any of the anonymous allegations against Holland and said they had "absolutely no" influence on his decision.
"I looked at the qualifications," he said. "I'm not eager to follow the old grudges."
For the post of acting provost and vice president for academic affairs, Cortada chose William Couch, a retired UDC English professor. Cortada had been an assistant provost while Couch served as provost in 1969 and 1970 at Federal City College, a time of turmoil there over black studies. Federal City was merged with two other institutions in 1977 to form UDC.
In the matter of the UDC football team, whose possible abolition is being considered by the trustees, Cortada urged additional financial support and better recruitment. The team has been plagued by poor attendance and a string of losing seasons. But, in a letter to the trustees, Cortada said abolishing football now "would only reinforce a defeatist psychology which will, in turn, lead to further enrollment declines and the possibility of additional staff reductions."
Cortada said eliminating football would be widely interpreted as "yet another sign of a general decline at the university, and will only further demoralize staff and students."
Trustee Joseph Webb said a board committee has decided to recommend keeping football, but he also urged that UDC seek to have the National Collegiate Athletic Association waive its requirement that any freshman playing on a varsity team have a combined score of at least 700 on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. UDC does not require the SAT for admissions.
But Cortada said it was unlikely that the NCAA would bend its academic requirement. "We'll have to live with it, and I think we can," he said. "We'll have to try harder to recruit athletes who are stronger in the classroom."
Under Cortada's tentative reorganization plan, the Banneker Community College would continue the university's policy of taking any high school graduate, regardless of grades or test scores. But Cortada said the four-year colleges would have selective admissions, as do state colleges such as Bowie and Towson State in Maryland. One of the four-year colleges would be for "professional studies," including business, education and nursing; one would be for science and mathematics; and one would be for humanities and social sciences. He said there would be "focused honors programs for the recruitment of highly competitive students."
Students who complete "the prescribed course of studies at Banneker" would be guaranteed admission as juniors in the baccalaureate schools. This pattern of transfers is widely used between two-year and four-year colleges around the country.
"I want a variety of opportunities and options for students," Cortada said. "It's not negative tracking. I'm completely against that."