THE UNIVERSITY of the District of Columbia, already battered by charges of financial mismanagement, is facing the possibility of operating without a functioning board of trustees in a matter of weeks. The mayor can avert that outcome, but only if he focuses on the potential governance gap without further delay.

Currently the 15-member UDC trustee board has 11 serving members. While not a full house, 11 trustees allows the board to function, since eight constitute a quorum. However, the terms of four sitting members expired on May 15, and their authorized 180-day holdover status ends in mid-November. If the mayor fails to nominate their replacements or fill the four existing vacancies, or should the council not receive the mayor's nominations in time to confirm them by Nov. 15, the board will not be able to achieve a quorum, thus leaving the school without a governing body. That would be unacceptable.

The Washington Times has reported that the FBI is investigating the university's finances. In addition, key members of Congress and city officials are questioning the cost of rents paid by UDC for vacant buildings. And University President Julius Nimmons, despite his stout defense of the school at every turn, has failed to earn the confidence of Mayor Anthony Williams. If UDC is to have the chance to become the academic institution its supporters desire, the school requires a board of trustees of the highest quality.

That means the board must not become a dumping ground for political payoffs or a launch pad for political careers. The university desperately needs qualified trustees with stature who bring with them a capacity to effectively oversee the school's management and represent its interests before the mayor and council, Congress and with key institutions across the city. Through his board appointments, Mayor Williams has an opportunity to shape the school's direction for years to come. He should act swiftly.