One day after students waged a protest calling for his resignation, University of the District of Columbia President Allen Sessoms faced the D.C. Council to answer questions about controversial expenditures from the university’s budget on March 8.

Sessoms repeatedly answered many of the same questions about his travel expenses to foreign countries. Council members inquired about the purpose of trips by faculty to Hawaii, US Virgin Islands and Cocoa Beach, Fla. Sessoms replied he would send the answers in writing, giving a breakdown of the expenses and the necessities for the trips.

“He’s blinking his eyes a lot. That means he’s lying,” said a few faculty members sitting in the audience.

“Not the case,” texted Aimee Occhetti, vice president of the UDC Office of Government Relations. Sessoms suffers from a condition known as blepharitis, which causes eyes to blink uncontrollably.

But the condition did not prevent Sessoms from delivering a hours-long testimony in which he fielded questions and also outlined milestones made by his administration from the university receiving procurement authority to opening two locations for its community college. The administrator presented a 46-page power point presentation that outlined his accomplishments to transform the “culture” of the oft-maligned university.

“I know certain faculty members would be angry but we had to get rid of classes that cost $100,000 a year with only one student taking the course,” said Sessoms. The president also spoke of modernizing certain departments. “We were processing financial aid applications manually. We had to bring the university up to modern standards,” Sessoms said.

The hearing followed a student rally held at the university on March 7 demanding Sessoms’ resignation for allegedly mismanaging school funds and student fees. Michael Watson, protest organizer, said information obtained from a Freedom of Information Act request showed receipts for lavish trips—including first-class trips to England and the Middle East, where the university has campuses. “We have copies of the receipts,” said Watson.

Students also claimed Sessoms closed down all student government affairs. However, Dr. Valerie Epps, vice president of student affairs, said Sessoms was not involved. “We made student government activities inactive pending an audit. All organizations have been reinstated as of March 4,” said Epps.
Alan Etter, a UDC spokesman, said the students have misused information to start a negative campaign.

“I wish some of them would inquire about the expenditures for trips like this of Georgetown, NOVA, American and other university presidents. We must stop limiting ourselves to small time thinking,” said Etter.

Councilman Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) agreed. “The university has been struggling for years. We must expand. We must grow. We must go places, reach out and meet people to raise money to make the university competitive,” Barry said.

Etter remembered that there were only five students every year for the last five years that were French majors. The university averaged one graduate a year. “Like other universities across the country we are assessing our courses and needs to determine what stays and what must be terminated,” Etter said.

Sessoms also looked at the needs of the current and future workforce.
Some faculty complained that Sessum’s style of managing is crude and too authoritarian, citing as an example his refusal to allow them to put religious symbols and sayings on university letterhead.

But Etter said for decades, the faculty ran the university. “Now the administration is in charge. We also revamped courses based on the ever-growing, ever-changing workforce. We demand professionalism at all times,” said Etter.

Council members requested an external audit of the university’s funding Joseph L Askew Jr., chairman of Board of Trustees for UDC, assured the council it would make sure all regulations were followed.

“Some people would love to see us fail. Some people are reluctant to change and fight it all costs. But we are going to make this university one of the best in the region,” said Etter.

 

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO