During a live interview the day after students at the University of the District of Columbia took over an administration building, Trustee Joseph Webb said the school was open that day because no one from the university had consulted him about closing it.
The trouble was that five hours earlier, UDC's interim president, Miles Mark Fisher IV, who has authority to open or close the school, had announced that the university would be closed.
Students watching the Webb interview on television inside the occupied building pointed in anger at the 12-inch screen.
"That's the problem," said Gregory Campbell, a freshman from North Carolina. "The president can close school when he wants to. He doesn't have to pick up the phone and ask the trustees if it's all right."
The 15-member Board of Trustees -- especially the 11 appointed by Mayor Marion Barry -- is at the center of protesting students' complaints about the operation of the only university in the District with an open-admissions policy.
Students want Barry's appointees to resign, saying they are insensitive to student concerns and have presided over a disintegration of services. Most trustees have refused to resign, saying that a mass resignation could jeopardize UDC's accreditation.
But the board is by no means the sole reason for the turbulent state of affairs at UDC. Current and former administrators, staff members, faculty members and local political observers said in interviews that several forces have been working against UDC since it was created in 1977.
One problem is the university's youth. Compared with other land-grant colleges, many of them more than 100 years old, UDC is still defining its mission.
Another problem is that UDC is top-heavy with administrators. The legislation that created the school by merging three institutions -- D.C. Teachers College, Washington Technical Institute and Federal City College -- included language that none of those schools' employees would lose their jobs because of the merger.
Layoffs were allowed after five years, but that has never happened.
As a result, UDC has one of the highest expenditures per student of any college in the nation: $14,300 per year to educate a full-time student.
The reason cited most often for persistent trouble at UDC is the political maneuverings of three groups: the trustees, faculty leadership and an administration that has had five presidents since 1978.
For those reasons and others, the university has never meshed into a smooth-working unit. The inevitable political infighting that takes place at any institution of higher education has crippled progress at UDC. Nor has it helped that the Barry administration has regarded UDC as a depository for political supporters, essentially preventing the school from operating as an autonomous institution.
The intrusion of city politics is obvious on the Board of Trustees.
Nira H. Long, chairman of the board, had worked for Barry in another city agency. Until he resigned on Monday, the board's vice chairman was Herbert O. Reid Sr., personal counsel to Barry. Patricia A. Mathis, Arthur M. Reynolds and Concha Johnson were all Barry appointees who had been his political supporters.
Among them, only Mathis, a former vice president at Boston University, has a substantial background in higher education.
"It would be better if the mayor's office had no role at all in the selection of the board," said Ronald Walters, chairman of the Howard University political science department and founder of the National Congress of Black Faculty. "That would divorce the university from the politics of the city."
But it wouldn't improve the politics at the university, which recently was described by a visiting accreditation team as three separate entities: the board of trustees, the administration and the faculty senate, which is led by the same group that leads the faculty union, giving the group a disproportionate amount of power.
The faculty leadership overlaps in the faculty senate and faculty union, a rare occurrence that endows a small group of faculty members with a disproportionate amount of power.
Those three blocs have helped to create an atmosphere of instability that led several hundred students to take over the student affairs building and demand new leadership for their school.
The infighting became furious in the last six months of the administration of Rafael L. Cortada, who was fired by the board in May.
The elected faculty leadership first began sparring with Cortada over the people he hired as deans and top administrators. The trustees, under Long's direction, became leery of Cortada's moves after he said he wanted to create a community college and restrict admissions to the school's four-year program.
The result was an ugly, public firing of Cortada and the filing of a multimillion-dollar lawsuit in which Cortada says that the board defamed him and tried to interfere in his search for employment.
The faculty senate, under the leadership of accounting professor E. Dave Chatman, applauded the firing of Cortada.
But that harmony was only momentary. The faculty group was highly critical of the board's hiring of an outsider, Richard Fairley, to be executive vice president. The group was further enraged when the board declined to name Chatman interim president, choosing instead the board's own executive director.
The trustees sensed the continuing turmoil and talked of sending a peace offering to the faculty. They called Chatman the night they voted to make Fisher interim president and said Chatman would be named vice president for academic affairs.
But after the call, the board decided that the new interim president, and not the trustees, should decide on administrative appointments. That put the faculty senate at severe odds with the board. And the faculty senate took advantage, distributing its notes on the accrediting team's exit meeting with faculty members, staff members and administrators.
That, the accrediting agency pointed out, violates its standards, which call for confidentiality until the review process is complete.
Protesters have used those faculty notes to persuade students to support their movement, saying that the university's accreditation is in jeopardy so there is no need to go to class.
"Students should know that going to class will not help to create change at UDC," said Mark Thompson, the student protest leader. "If we don't make changes, we may lose our accreditation and your degree won't mean anything."