STUDENTS AT UDC should return to class and end the week-long college shutdown. We have sympathy for their academic demands, but not for their intransigent and disruptive methods. The longer the protest, the more these students become hostages of their own strategy. Students who tried to attend classes this week were called "traitors." What's next, seeking to set aside exams because classes have been interrupted?

There is plenty of blame to be apportioned for the pass to which the university has come. The mayor too often used his power to appoint 11 of the university's 15 trustees as political patronage. There are some good trustees, but they are rare. The D.C. council's oversight has been similarly weak, never mind that this is a public university sustained by D.C. funds.

The trustees, for their part, rejected a plan supported by the mayor, accreditation teams and two higher education task forces: the creation of a university system with separate two-year and four-year programs. UDC sought major college sports status when it could not house, tutor or properly feed athletes or even provide a football field. The trustees wasted time on a plan to make UDC a national art center.

UDC's contentious faculty senate has also played a mischievous role. It sided with the trustees against the last UDC president. It has now sided with the students against the trustees. What is its purpose, other than to foment unrest?

The university has floundered for 14 years. Three months is not too long to wait for the new mayoral administration and new leadership on the D.C. Council. Change should begin in January with the replacement of the trustees who have resigned during the student protests, with the appointment of trustees whose main interest is not their own prestige. Political loyalty should not be a factor. The revamped board of trustees must then select a new president.

UDC's faculty should be examined. What passes for the tenure process now is pretty automatic: anyone who survived UDC's earliest years seems to have a job for life. A real system of tenure based on teaching performance and research is needed. Perhaps then, UDC can finally become the school that its backers have dreamed of, a school that provides strong academic support and a useful diploma -- not one that offers its students little more than a recipe for failure.