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James E. Lyons Sr. is UDC’s interim president

James E. Lyons Sr. (UDC)

The University of the District of Columbia has officially moved on from the turbulent tenure of Allen Sessoms: The university board on Thursday announced the appointment of an interim replacement for the former president.

James E. Lyons Sr., who served as Maryland’s secretary of higher education from 2007 to 2010, will assume the temporary post on March 20.

In a statement, UDC board chairwoman Elaine Crider said the school is “very fortunate to have Dr. Lyons join us at this important time and will certainly benefit from his extensive leadership experience.” Since Sessoms’s December ouster, the university has been led by psychology professor Rachel Petty.

Lyons served as president of Bowie State University in Maryland from 1983 until 1992. He then helmed Mississippi’s Jackson State University for seven years before leading California State University Dominguez Hills from 1999 to 2007. After leaving the Maryland higher education post, he served as interim president at Louisiana’s Dillard University.

The university statement indicates that Lyons’s role will go beyond being a caretaker to leading efforts to “chart a new vision and strategic direction” aligning with Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s recently unveiled economic development strategy.

“The University of the District of Columbia plays a vital role in ensuring District residents have accessible and affordable higher educational options, and it is imperative that we have the career ladders they can rely on for workforce development and professional and advance degrees,” he said in the statement.

Lyons holds advanced degrees in educational management, distinguishing him from Sessoms, who was trained as a physicist and worked as a diplomat before becoming a university president.

When Sessoms was fired by the UDC board in December, it said the interim president “would serve approximately from six to 18 months during a national search for a permanent replacement.” Consider that timeline to be advisory: The board, at that time, said the interim pick would be made by mid-January.

Lyons will be introduced at a March 21 news conference, the university announced.

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.



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