SOME FACULTY members and students at the University of the District of Columbia have opposed the layoff of 55 faculty members. A UDC report and budget figures suggest that this opposition is ill-founded. UDC is a distressed institution that must rein in expenditures. Reductions in force in underenrolled departments are necessary.

Enrollment at UDC has dropped precipitously from 15,096 students in 1979 to 11,098 in the current school year. Despite that, the mayor and the D.C. Council consistently approved higher budgets for UDC, from $58.3 million in fiscal 1983 to $67.7 million in fiscal 1987. But UDC expenditures consistently exceeded those higher budgets in fiscal years 1983, 1984, and 1985. Non-personnel cuts kept UDC's budget balanced in fiscal 1986, but UDC is again projected to overshoot its fiscal 1987 budget by $2.5 million, cutting its fund reserve from $6.9 million to $4.2 million.

In its fiscal 1988 budget request, UDC identifies $9.6 million in "unmet critical needs," but finds the city willing to offer only $1.7 million. The rest must come from cuts within UDC. University officials said those needs included funds to regain accreditation in engineering programs, to keep its nursing program accreditation and to address "serious deficiencies" in its libraries.

UDC's solution was to eliminate the Chinese, German and technical-teacher-training programs, curtail other underenrolled programs and lay off 55 instructors, saving only $3.4 million. The layoffs are based on seniority. UDC has also cut 96 administrative positions. Angry students might consider the fact that UDC officials considered and rejected another large increase in tuition. An instructional committee, selected by UDC's own faculty senate, determined that 113 1/2 faculty positions should be cut. The university's report also said that regaining that $9.6 million through faculty layoffs alone would require cutting 200 faculty positions. The actual layoffs should be viewed as a reasonable effort to save a struggling institution.