On Tuesday, June 16, the D.C. Council did to the board of trustees of the University of the District of Columbia what it complains that the U.S. Congress does to it -- it stripped the board of its authority and right to make decisions on internal university matters.
The council's mischief is three-sided. Its emergency legislation, effective for 90 days, gives UDC two months to vacate its historic Wilson Building so that the former Antioch law school will have a new home. The mayor did veto the emergency bill, but the council is likely to override the chief executive on Tuesday. Also on Tuesday, the council will hear the second reading of temporary legislation, effective for 225 days, which would achieve the same purpose as the emergency bill. And finally, permanent legislation to force the same eviction of UDC people and programs moves through regular legislative pipelines toward still another vote later on.
Whatever happens Tuesday, the threat remains real -- one that will certainly be viewed by the university's accrediting agencies and others in higher education as unprecedented, arrogant political interference.
Where is the wisdom of this precipitous decision? Were any assessments made of the impact on both the university and the law school? Were there other options than to force the university from a building it has occupied since its beginning?
I was notified of the proposed legislation by Council member Hilda Mason, chairman of the committee of education, only 24 hours before the council was scheduled to vote on it. The surprise was all the greater because on June 12, Mason's committee acknowledged the university's need for a Mount Vernon campus and admonished us for increased spending on leased space. On June 16, the same committee passed legislation having the immediate effect of increasing the university's leasing costs. If there is such a thing as legislative amnesia, this is a model example.
The council's directive to get out of the Wilson Building one week after the last day of summer classes would cause chaos. Who can expect the university to negotiate space, uproot 65 faculty and staff members, and pack and move furniture, equipment and supplies by Aug. 14? And what about rescheduling classes for the fall semester, notifying students and on and on?
The long-term effect may well jeopardize the accreditation of the College of Education and human ecology programs. Current facilities have been approved; new facilities would require new approval. The accrediting agencies will also question the ability of the university to govern itself in light of the council's unilateral action.
If Mason believes that the university can easily find new space to move the people and programs now in the Wilson Building, as she has stated, then why not ask the law school to find the same space?
What the UDC board of trustees anticipated when it chose not to acquire Antioch law school is now beginning to happen. The law school, with the D.C. Council behind it, is revving up to become the engine that drives the university. Should the trustees stand back and let the university become an appendage to some one else's pet project?
We think not. We read with wonderment the comment by Thomas J. Mack, former Antioch law school dean, who said that the law school is "like the state of Israel. Our right to exist must be respected." Well, we don't intend that UDC become the Palestinians of higher education.
The university's board of trustees is prepared to go the limit to ensure that its authority is sustained and the character of the university is not impaired.
-- N. Joyce Payne is chairman of the UDC board of trustees.