IT HAS been a nerve-racking year for the board of trustees of the University of the District of Columbia. Help may be coming in the form of guidance from the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional body that will decide on UDC's accreditation, and from the D.C. Council. Middle States recommends less board interference in leadership functions that should be handled by UDC's president and a much smaller and less intrusive staff for the board.
Too often, UDC's board has taken on too much. A fact-finding team from Middle States found, for example, that the board had played "an unusually central role" in trying to develop a strategic plan for the university. Also, the board improperly assumes administrative functions through its own staff. Such long-standing zeal has "constituted a form of continual second guessing" that "undermines the ability of the president to perform his/her leadership functions," the fact- finding team said.
Another change urged by Middle States, one which must be taken up by the city's elected officials, involves the "ethically questionable" practice of paying UDC trustees $4,000 per year. Middle States acknowledges the need to reimburse "reasonable" trustee expenses "associated with attendance at board meetings," but adds that board members should not be paid for carrying out their responsibilities. The part of the D.C. Code that authorizes the $4,000 annual payment to the trustees should be changed.
UDC has been warned that its accreditation is in jeopardy and has been ordered to address these concerns by Dec. 15 to avoid "more serious action." Whether Middle States will actually deny accreditation is unclear. But fortunately a D.C. Council panel on UDC agrees with the changes recommended by Middle States and has included a suggestion that the trustees' staff report to the UDC president in the future.
For the betterment of the university, the trustees should be willing to step into their proper policy-making role. The board's most important function is, after all, the selection of a strong university president who can provide day-to-day leadership. The next UDC president, whoever that might be, also deserves to work within a flexible institutional framework that bolsters rather than impairs the office's authority.