Back to Control Board main page
Government and People
UNIVERSITY OF THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ASSEMBLY
DR. ANDREW F. BRIMMER
AUGUST 21, 1998
MONEY AND MANAGEMENT IN THE UNIVERSITY
I was delighted to receive this opportunity to visit the University of the District of Columbia. I am a citizen of the District, and I live only a few blocks from this Campus. My business is located in the City, and I pay the entire gamut of taxes which apply to residents and businesss in the District.
Therefore, although I am not an alumnus of this institution, UDC is my Universitybecause it belongs to all of us.
I am also pleased to be on this Campus for another reason: In the Spring of 1997, the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority initiated a comprehensive Study of the University to assess its present structure and performance and to chart the troubled waters through which it will have to sail in the future. I assumed responsibility for directing that Study and for the Report which we issued in January of this year. At the Authority, we have continued to give a great deal of attention to the University and the challenges it faces. So my visit to this Campus today gives me an opportunity to compliment the UDC community on the way it is trying to solve its many problems. I also want to urge you to redouble your efforts to overcome the obstacles which remain.
Education in the District
Improving the education of District residents has been a major aim of the Financial Authority since its inception in 1995. We believed then, and still believe, that a high quality education is a critical part of the Districts revitalization. We concluded that it was not enough to return the District to financial solvency, to balance its budget, and to restore its bond ratings. Important as these goals are, the future vitality and success of the District will depend on improving the quality of public services in areas such as public education and public safety.
Without high quality services, without an educational system that provides our children and our residents with opportunities and a future, there will not be a rejuvenation of the District. We will not retain our residents, and we will not encourage people to move here. That is why the Authority has concentrated so much effort on the D.C. Public School System. That is also why we have given a great deal of attention to strengthening the University of the District of Columbia.
The Universitys history of offering quality higher education is a source of pride and hope for District residents. This institution has been a beacon for African Americans, for those of other races, and increasingly for foreign students. It has provided an education to those with limited resources to pay for equal access to quality higher education, and for those non-traditional, adult learners whose needs are different from those of the typical 18-year-old college freshman.
Unfortunately, the Universitys many strengths have gotten lost in the recent debate about the Universitys finances and its future. These strengths are substantial:
The UDC Environment
Yet, in recent years, the University has gone through a severe financial crisis. Appropriated funds had to be reduced from more than $70 million in 1992 to less than $37 million in 1997. The same amount was provided for fiscal 1998. And while per-student fees are well below average, the actual per-student costs are among the highest in the country. Deteriorating finances over several years finally culminated in an $18 million deficit during the 1996-1997 school year.
To erase that deficit, the University had to undertake the most drastic cutbacks in its history. It had to reduce its expenditures and raise revenues, consolidate programs, institute furloughs, and sell off some of its most valuable assets. The crisis, not surprisingly, prompted questions about the University's viability, and whether public higher education has a future in the Nation's Capital.
It was in that environmentand partly in response to the Universitys situationthat the Authority undertook a Study and issued its report on UDC, entitled Graduating to a Better Future: Public Higher Education in the District of Columbia. The Authority formed its conclusions after many months of study, both by consultants and our own staff, and after considerable discussion with members of the UDC community and with citizens of the District at large. In its Report, the Authority set forth five main conclusions, which were accompanied by recommendations. In preparation for my appearance today, I have reviewed those recommendations. In doing so, I note a mixed response on the part of the University. I see some progress, some hesitation, anddisappointedlyno progress in some cases.
That University is UDC. The Authority reached this conclusion after much research and analysis and after engaging in discussions with numerous citizens and policy makers. We asked whether such an institution is required when so many other colleges and universities exist in the region. This was a critical question in light of the fact that alternative approaches to higher education continue to expand. The Authority concluded that the basic justification for the Universitys existence to serve as a public university for the community of the District of Columbiais still valid.
Yet, we also concluded that the University could not successfully exist if it remained the same old UDC of recent years. Instead, public responsibility requires that UDC live within its financial means to ensure that public funds are effectively spent on programs central to the communitys future. And while the University has made some progress in recognizing the necessities of this changed environment, it appears that some members of the UDC community either do not understand the need foror do not take responsibility forworking under difficult circumstances.
We believe that the University needs to strengthen the core mission by which UDC provides public higher education designed for the communitys basic needs. In revising UDCs mission, the Universitys leadership should focus more sharply on the strengths of this unique public institution. UDC should refrain from supporting a status quo in which it would attempt to be all things to all people. Truly, the future of UDC lies in addressing the needs of the core constituencies that the University serves. For that reason, I was pleased to learn recently that UDC is in the process of preparing a new mission statement, one that will more accurately reflect the actual mission of the University. Of course, more needs to be done than simply formulate a new mission statement, but this is clearly a step in the right direction.
We recommended that UDC be restructured to support the Universitys new mission. I am pleased to see that the University has begun this difficult task. It is streamlining the academic structure to achieve a better match between resources and outcomes. Unfortunately, not all UDC stakeholders have been willing partners to change. On the other hand, I know that the University is currently eliminating three programs for which it no longer sees a need: (1) Mechanical and Civil Engineering Technology; (2) Geography; and (3) Philosophy. I realize it is not easy to take actions of this nature. However, they are essential so resources can be shifted to support those areas which are core to the Universitys central mission. We encourage UDC to continue to find ways to streamline programs. It is also necessary for the institution to continue to build a structure that seeks to meet the critical needs of those students seeking a better future through higher education.
We recommended that, among the Universitys goals, should be the provision of vocational and technical training, remedial education, and courses for the Associate level college degree. Greater links to the business community, and to public-private partnerships, should be established. College concentrations would be centered on those areas that facilitate the mission: fundamental educational advancement, the search for solutions to urban problems, ethnocultural enrichment, and support for regional job placement. In this regard, the Universitys leadership deserves recognition for expanding outreach to the business community to gain its support for the institutions educational programs. However, there are few signs from UDC which show that it is seriously committed to fundamental restructuring. Too many changes seem to be occurring in the same old way at the margins of the University. Without more direct and dramatic changes in curriculum, the University itself may be left at the margins.
Although problems recently faced by the University resulted directly from declining resources, many also arose because of inadequate attention to governance issues. The resolution of these difficulties still calls for greater participation by the Trustees. The Board must provide for effective governance of a changed and more focused institution. It must create better oversight mechanisms, establish strong outcomes and performance measures, and institute structures of accountability and internal controls that assure public integrity and efficiency. I know the Trustees are beginning to move in this direction, and I urge them to accelerate their efforts.
The Authority remains convinced that a properly structured and effectively managed UDC has a central place in the life of the District community. But, in all candor, the University is not out of danger. The crisis that existed several years ago, when UDC was forced to close an unplanned $18 million deficit, no longer threatens the institutions viability. However, there remain deep-rooted financial problems which continue to hamper the Universitys flexibility. Therefore, the University must learn to live within its budget. For Fiscal Year 1999, the appropriation for the University was raised to $40.2 million, an increase of 8 per cent over that for FY 1998. However, the local portion of UDCs budget is unlikely to rise, and it will not, in the foreseeable future, return to the level that existed even just a few years ago. Thus, UDC must get better control of its spending.
For instance, President Nimmons recently informed me that the University was in danger of running a budget deficit of nearly $1.5 million for the current fiscal year. He also told me that he had promptly taken steps to prevent the potential deficit from occurring. These included a freeze on all personnel spending and restrictions on most expenditures for reasons other than health and safety. I commend the President for responding so vigorously.
Nevertheless, UDC clearly remains vulnerable to ineffective financial controls. For example, a recent review of financial controls by the Office of the Chief Financial Officer found that some program managers have not implemented a District wide policy (and a July, 1997, UDC policy) that requires approval from the budget office before staff can be hired. Moreover, it appears that program managers have not submitted to the President and the CFO a spending plan for FY 1999. I would also note that the Authority, in its Study, found numerous financial problems requiring resolution. We forwarded these to the attention of the University. Some progress has been made in resolving them, but much remains to be done.
Finally, I wish to discuss management reform at the University. After reviewing the work of the Authoritys consultants and staff, and after the many discussions I have had with people about UDC in the last several years, it is clear to me that management is one of the principal problems facing the University. Of course, UDC is not alone in that regard. We have found that issues of management deficiency confront every part of the District government. Problems with management, and with the provision of effective public services, prompted the Congress last year to mandate that the Authority institute a program of management reform throughout the government. We have included the University in that program.
Like many other universities, UDC has had to struggle with supporting its academic side and its management side simultaneously. While many other universities have been able to institute strong structures to support education and management, UDC has not had the same success. The recent history of the University shows that management effectiveness and the larger requirements of the University typically take a back seat to other issues, including the desires of the faculty, who do not always have the same goals as UDCs leadership.
Clearly, it is time to improve the management structure at UDC. The University must ensure that the academic environment and the education of our residents are no longer held back by inadequate attention to the critical issues of running a university. In response to these concerns, the Authority, in consultation with Dr. Nimmons, has decided to earmark management reform funds to improve the management operations of the University. The Authority has agreed to provide UDC with funds to create a high-level post of Senior Vice President for Management. This officer, along with the Provost and the Chief Financial Officer, will report directly to the Universitys President. The Authority and Dr. Nimmons agree that a senior person in this position can bring much needed expertise and attention to all areas of management and administration at the University.
Moreover, the Authority has agreed to provide UDC with management reform funds to modernize its antiquated computer system and to ensure that the institutions systems conform to Year 2000 considerations. The Authority will provide the University with approximately $1.5 million this year, which can be carried over into FY 1999. These funds will be used to purchase a new mainframe computer, to obtain the necessary software and networks for the system, and to provide for effective training for their use.
What UDC needs most is a period of stability in which to rebuild on the foundation of public higher education in the District. The university must establish a firm funding level, create a strong academic program supported by its mission, and institute a vigorous marketing effort to attract students and faculty that can assure their mutual success. If these things are done, the entire District of Columbia community will benefit from the re-emergence of UDC as a beacon of public education in the Nation's Capital.
The period in which UDC can provide a college education in virtually any field is over. The university - its faculty, staff, administration, and students, must recognize and accept this reality. And change, in academic programs, in structure, in management and operations, must occur. Only through change will UDC survive and be successful. Hunkering down, attempting to wait out financial storms, will not work. The university must create an environment that looks to the future, and not to the past or the status quo.
Finally, I want to leave this message with all who care about this University: not enough change has been forthcoming - not even in those academic programs on which the University has focused its efforts to date. Furthermore, beyond the specific changes in programs that might benefit the University's consolidation, UDC must think creatively and strategically, in the context of the University's unique mission, about its future direction. I would encourage all stakeholders to press ahead in rebuilding this importantand still vitalacademic institution.
Ultimately a combination of vision and responsible governance can create a place where residents successfully pursue an education and fulfill their dreams for the future.
That place is the University of the District of Columbia.
Back to top of page
Send mail with questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Web site copyright ©DCWatch (ISSN 1546-4296)