Tonight District leaders say they will be involved in the hiring of the next president of the University of the District of Columbia, one day after the city’s only public university fired President Allen Sessoms.
The News4 I-Team's Tisha Thompson was the first reporter to uncover a spending scandal that has tarnished the president's reputation at the school. It began with a tip about an expensive trip to Egypt and resulted in an investigation exposing serious problems with UDC’s financial accountability.
“Mr. Sessoms accomplished a lot while he was here,” Ward 6 Councilmember Tommy Wells said today. “But I don’t second guess the Board’s decision at all.”
Like many District leaders, Wells says Sessoms arrived in 2008 with an impressive resume and big, promising ideas like creating a separate community college.
But in 2011, Sessoms became mired in a scandal after Thompson and Investigative Producer Rick Yarborough discovered a $7,900 one-way planet ticket to Egypt in his travel records.
The trip was one of many luxury excursions Thompson and Yarborough uncovered showing how Sessoms and his family used government money on high-priced travel.
Sessoms claimed he needed to fly first-class because of a medical condition and insisted the trip to Egypt was part of his job requirement.
Already unhappy with a tuition hike, students demanded Sessoms’s resignation and DC Council started question his ability to lead.
“In terms of overspending, those things, it's unacceptable,” Wells said today. “We're public servants. We're on the public's dime. And there's no question that that's unacceptable."
Wells thinks the spending scandal was one of the major reasons UDC’s Board of Trustees decided to fire Sessoms late Wednesday night.
In a statement, UDC Board Chair Dr. Elaine Crider says, "As we grapple with the challenges of reducing staff and programs, continuing our physical plant and attracting new students, the Board has decided to go in a different direction."
Once a major supporter of the president, Mayor Vincent Gray now says Sessoms didn't move fast enough to reduce costs and advance the community college. "The progress has really been slow on that front,” Gray said. “So, I can understand why there would have been frustration within the Board of Trustees."
Even though the Board has final decision on who will be the next president, the mayor says he will be very involved in the selection process. "The city is a huge investor in the university -- about half the budget comes from the city treasury -- so as a huge stakeholder, investor, we want to make sure the next person selected is the best possible person we can have."
UDC says it could take a year and a half to select a new president. In the meantime, the Board says it has already started the interview process for an interim president they hope to have in place by the middle of January.