Benjamin Alexander, who just resigned as president of the University of the District of Columbia, submitted a report last month to a committee of the university's board of trustees. This article is excerpted from it.
When I arrived at the University of the District of Columbia, I discovered that there were, and still are, in the university a number of individuals with great ambitions, with unrealistic perceptions of their own abilities and, unfortunately, with a propensity for troublemaking which ranges from the level of nuisance to the more serious level of dishonest and unscrupulous behavior. Coupled with this was a longstanding practice at UDC of going outside the university to higher authorities or to other influential people in order to get one's way.
Reportedly, there had been also a general lowering of academic standards and expectations on the part of some faculty. Some students were being permitted simply to pass through courses and were not being required to meet our own stated standards or those applied to students at other institutions.
The question of faculty morale at UDC is a complex one which needs to be examined with some care. In one sense, of course, the problems which impinge on faculty morale at UDC are the same as those at any other post-secondary institution, or indeed in any bureaucracy. Some faculty have never made the psychological transition from the three predecessor institutions to the multi-purpose university which UDC has become. Some faculty (while strongly vocal they are clearly a minority) perceive the institution as not functioning very well, and they reach that conclusion on the basis of services not provided to them. Faculty complain, too, that university policies are not always followed; or that exceptions are made for favored individuals.
What makes the perceived inefficiency even worse for some faculty is that the reward system seems to them to be geared to encouraging incompetency and inefficiency.
Still other faculty members are discontented because it is their nature: they are professional malcontents who have been unhappy with the state of this institution for years and will continue so no matter what administration is in office and no matter what steps are taken to address their supposed concerns.
Attempting to address these perceptions and to solve the institutional problems that some faculty have identified is an impossible task in a 10-month period.
For the past 10 months, I have not enjoyed a productive working relationship with the entire board. Six members disapproved strongly of my becoming president of UDC; had I known this fact prior to accepting the presidency, it would not have been accepted, i.e. with six members so strongly opposed.
Working with a strongly divided board has not been good for me or the university. This has been compounded within the past several months by the board action to require board approval of every personnel action for senior-level, mid-level and even some junior- level positions. It is very difficult to make management improvements when every hiring, reassignment, promotion and even temporary details must first receive board concurrence.
Yet I believe that UDC has made great strides in 10 months. The environment for the students has been strengthened, a number of administrative improvements have taken place and many positive comments have been made in the media and in public forums about the direction in which UDC is proceeding. On a number of occasions the mayor and other public officials have voiced their strong support.
My style of operation is opposed by some and praised by others; however, in all fairness, the board (and the university community) knew before hiring me of my strong beliefs:
I choose to do what is right, and not what is political.
Even though it be unpopular, if it is the truth and should be said, I will say it.
I am strongly opposed to "grade inflation," coddling of students, permissiveness, or to the "social promotion" policy in higher education.
Remediation should be designed to provide the student with the tools and skills that he or she has not gained in earlier years of schooling. If, ultimately, the student cannot make it, he or she should be failed. A university cannot pass students who have not learned the required subject content; similarly, an institution must never compromise itself in terms of academic standards and policy.
If higher education has a primary purpose, that purpose must be the preparation of quality students who will successfully compete in the marketplace and who will be sought after by prospective employers as a consequence of their ability and training.
I can understand, but I do not accept, the view that here in the District of Columbia the state university must, uniquely in this country, retain and even graduate students who cannot do college work.
It is my strong opinion that a majority of the board and those in the university community support my beliefs. I somehow believe what I have been told many times: "It is your style--even though you get the job done--and not necessarily your views, that are being fought." I admit to being different from the usual person. I am ambitious, independent, strive for perfection and generally am very demanding; but I have never expected others to do more work than I do.
A most important thing for me is that thus far in life, I have never failed in a job; and many positions that I served in were initially difficult assignments. It is my strong feeling, also, that the information found in this report indicates that I have not failed as president of UDC.