Ronald Mason Jr.
Dr. Ronald Mason Jr. said he is hoping he can make an impact on the District’s only public university as he settles into his role as president. With over 30 years of experience in higher education, community development, and the legal field, Mason comes to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) after most recently serving as president of Southern University and the A&M College System in Louisiana.
“I was actually going to go and teach after that, but I got a call from UDC,” he told the AFRO on Sept. 11. “I started to look at it, talked to my wife about it and found that this was one more worth doing, which is why I’m here.”
The historically Black university has long been lost in the shadows of more elite institutions in the area. “I can see the possibilities of what UDC can be and do for the District, but it’s really not my job to set those goals,” said Mason, who earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from Columbia University and is a graduate of the Harvard Institute of Educational Management. “My job is to understand what the District needs in a system of public higher education, what my board expects in a system of public high education and then it’s my job to make it happen.”
In February 2014, the university released its latest version of “Vision 2020,” a plan outlining a path to renewal, innovation, success, and sustainability. The plan envisions a large increase in enrollment and an online college among other lofty goals, said Mason. “I think we can do , but sometimes you have to do the work that’s not real sexy before you can do what you really want to do.”
To begin, said Mason, the university must create a culture among staff where technology resources replace traditional pen and paper. This will help improve processes for student enrollment and receipt of financial aid.
While the university’s workforce development programs, community college, four-year bachelor’s programs, and law school offer a myriad of opportunities to students, the ability to climb these academic ladders must be streamlined by the institution, he said.
One of the biggest hurdles for the university to overcome the unfavorable public perception on the school’s physical appearance and the quality of its degrees. One change to overcome the diminished perception is with the opening of a 90,000-square-foot, LEED certified student center in November. “It’s going to be our face on Connecticut Avenue,” Mason said. “You’ll come right out of the subway into our student center, which will lead you right into the campus.”
In changing that perception, Mason said he wants to highlight the school’s academics. He said the university’s engineering program as being highly competitive. “I predict the day when they will compare our programs to other programs in the area and decide to come here because we have better programs,” he said.
In addition, the university must prove to District government that it is capable of carrying out these goals on its own. Up until now, the city has been stringent in management of the university as it is structured like a city agency, Mason said.
LaToya Foster, senior communications officer for Mayor Muriel Bowser told the AFRO through email Sept. 16, “The Mayor is committed to working closely with UDC leadership and the community to make sure the flagship college and the community college are on a path to success.”