A 10-DAY campus shutdown by students at the University of the District of Columbia was hardly the best way to effect change, but the stage is now set for UDC to move toward firm ground. Nira H. Long, whose agenda was significantly at odds with the needs of the university, has resigned. The slumbering D.C. Council is awakening to its responsibilities and is considering legislation that could alter the university's basic framework. And each of the remaining trustees has agreed to be "significantly guided" by the wishes of the city's next mayor in terms of his or her tenure on the board. The school's most ardent supporters could not have asked for more.
There was never a need to meet the students' demand of resignations by the 11 trustees appointed by Mayor Marion Barry. A core group of five responsible trustees does exist, and UDC would not be poorly served if they remained. One other student demand, to expand the board to more than 20 members, is a bad idea. The board should be smaller, meet less often and stay out of daily administration. Its members should not receive $4,000 annually for their duties.
A draft report by an accreditation team from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools noted that some trustees followed the "inappropriate" practice of having a large support staff that takes on administrative functions. This "constitutes a form of continuous second-guessing, which does not conform to good governance practices," and "undermines the ability of the president to perform his/her leadership functions," the team said.
The team also said that UDC's faculty senate "departs from tradition" and "may be operating in an adversarial rather than a collegial role." The team suggested steps "to encourage involvement by the entire faculty in the institution's governance system" and that the faculty senate should limit its spending solely to that "necessary to maintain itself as an internal deliberative body."
A further change would be to reduce the trustees' support staff and the UDC administration. When the university was formed by merging three schools 13 years ago, the administrative staff was never reduced. The reductions could pay for the things students need most: longer hours at the school library and food service areas, improved health services and more counselors for career planning and placement.
This city has always needed a respected public university. The task of creating such a place can now begin again, with the guidance of new leadership on the board of trustees, in the mayor's office and on the D.C. Council.