The University of the District of Columbia board of trustees said yesterday that it has agreed to the great majority of the demands made by several hundred students who have been occupying one of the Van Ness campus buildings since Wednesday.
The trustees vowed to hold classes on campus today for the first time since Thursday. The two sides remained deadlocked last night on the protesters' demands that the trustees named by Mayor Marion Barry and the board's student representative resign. Each side said it is firm in its position.
The possibility of a police crackdown on the students to prepare for today's classes appeared to subside somewhat late yesterday, as trustee Roger Wilkins said he believes regular classes can be held even if the students continue to occupy Building 38, the Student Affairs Building.
Student leader Mark Thompson, in a statement to reporters last night after the university announced its plans to resume classes, said, "As far as we're concerned, unitl further notice, school is closed." This echoed a statement he had made earlier in the day, at a noon prayer meeting in a courtyard adjacent to the occupied building. "Tomorrow morning . . . the board is committed to opening the school," Thompson said. "And we are not."
Thompson said last night that even though the negotiations were successful on numerous issues, the talks did not amount to meaningful dialogue between the two sides. He said that during the talks, university officials would make an offer and the students would make a counteroffer. There will be no more movement on remaining issues unless the two sides discuss the substance of the students' grievances, Thompson said.
The students are as adamant in their stance in favor of resignation as the trustees are against it, he said.
Students met with the trustees twice yesterday, Wilkins said. "Of 43 student demands, we have agreed on . . . 38. Two others we agreed to dismiss," Wilkins said. The three unsettled issues center on the resignations demanded by the students.
Among the concessions that the board made during morning and afternoon meetings yesterday was a promise to reexamine its acceptance of the controversial work of art called "The Dinner Party," Wilkins said. The students are against the city's plan to float a $1.6 million bond issue for the university to renovate the Mount Vernon Square library building to house the piece, criticized by some political figures as obscene.
Although UDC has a contract with artist Judy Chicago, Wilkins said the board promised to examine all options regarding the plan to bring the work to campus.
Meanwhile, students remained inside the campus building last night to discuss their options as they prepare for their sixth day of occupation.
Their undisputed leader is Thompson, a charismatic 25-year-old who is an electrifying speaker. In his speeches to protesters inside the occupied building, he moves nimbly from wit to seriousness, dispensing accolades to some and occasionally intimidating others with curses. He appears at ease with himself in this highly pressured atmosphere. He refers to Mayor Barry -- a figure intermittently adored and mistrusted by the students -- as "Marion."
He knows how to work situations in his favor. Last summer, when nearly everyone in Washington was trying to find a way to meet with Nelson Mandela, Thompson found a way -- as a representative of black-owned media -- to get a spot with a small group of reporters chosen to follow the African National Congress leader.
He is one of the few protesters with experience as an organizer. In August, he helped lead a local college student boycott of the annual gathering of black students in Virginia Beach, where students had become the focus of a racially charged confrontation. He also helped organize a national student march here in June to demand more student financial aid.
The numerous student complaints about UDC -- the continual administrative turnover and the turmoil in the athletic department are only two of many -- have been around for years. Students say Thompson has been a major force in galvanizing them into action.
That is no small feat at a commuter school without campus housing or other central student gathering points.
The average student is 26 years old and works full time. But most of the few hundred UDC protesters are younger, mostly in their late teens or early twenties.
"They're the ones who don't have the responsibilities of children and jobs," said a former UDC student who now works for the campus police. "But we needed them to do this. I am just sick of how things have been around here."
Many of the students sitting-in look up to Thompson as someone experienced with power politics and the media. Some students were fearful about notifying their parents on the first night of the takeover that they would not be coming home.
"I've been a part-time student here for five years and this is the first time I have been proud to be a UDC student," said a 24-year-old protester.
When nerves got on edge inside Building 38 early Saturday evening, a member of the UDC jazz ensemble picked up his flute and serenaded the testy group. Visits from several elected officials lifted protesters' spirits. But none of them did as much as a showing of support from students at other colleges.
Early on the first day of the takeover, about two dozen Howard University students went to the UDC campus to share information about their own takeover in early 1989. Since then, students have come from American, Morgan State, Bowie State, Hampton and George Washington universities. Late Saturday night, two carloads of students showed up from the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
Not everyone was welcomed. Student protesters said thanks but no thanks when the Rev. Al Sharpton, of New York, called to suggest that he visit to show his support.
"I told him thank you for your support, but we do not want you here," said a protest organizer. "We don't want anyone here whose presence is going to take away from the seriousness of the situation."
Students did provide their own entertainment, and often it was music. Saturday night on level three of the six-level building, students played music by the rhythm and blues group Guy. On A-Level someone played a cassette of the late stand-up comic Robin Harris. On Level 2 in the student lounge, where the largest number of students congregated, there was a tape of the rap group Public Enemy, with its biting social commentary.
In one Saturday night scene, a student struggling with algebra had her own private tutor -- an engineering major. Others read textbooks, some biology, history and literature. "We heard that after the Howard takeover, a lot of student grade-point averages went way down," said one student who cradled "Life Sciences," a biology textbook. "We don't want that to happen to us."