The "bloat" of employees, as one official described the situation, and relatively level funding from the District, has put the city's only public university in financial straits. Mayor Vincent Gray is offering UDC $64.9 million for fiscal 2013, a $1.2 million increase over last year but substantially less than the $85.1 million the university is requesting as its community college takes steps toward independence under its budget.
District lawmakers recently voted to reprogram $6.1 million in city savings to bail out UDC.
"Basically, [next year] we will be in the same or worse situation than we are in currently," said Joseph Askew, chairman of the board of trustees.
UDC's leaders, independent advisers and the D.C. Council agree the university needs to "right-size" to cut costs. The lion's share of UDC's spending is on academic affairs, at $48.9 million, and 86 percent of that envelope goes to personnel.
Alice Rivlin, senior fellow in economic studies for the Brookings Institution and a professor at Georgetown University, testified that in 2009-2010, UDC's total expenditures per full-time student was $36,684 -- about 60 percent higher than the median costs of its peers, said Rivlin, who is part of an advisory board on the community college's transition.
"We do need a structuring at the university and we are aggressively embarking on that effort as we speak," said trustee Jim Dyke. He warned that UDC would need the council and the mayor's support, "because some of those changes are going to involve controversial but much-needed components ... There are going to need to be some changes made in the personnel area to do the kind of 'right-sizing' that's necessary."
University President Allen Sessoms said it's difficult to fire faculty and staff because of the city's labor protections, even when employees aren't unionized.
"Many of them are perfectly justified, but they also protect the employees that aren't performing," Sessoms said.
One UDC official told The Washington Examiner that a support-staff employee didn't show up to work for three days without a word. "The person's supervisor resigned in December, and [months later] their excuse was the supervisor resigned: 'I didn't know who I should call,' and the union defends them," said the official. The employee still works at UDC.
Councilman Michael Brown, who heads the committee on housing and workforce development, told The Examiner that he wasn't sure there was merit to that argument.
"They have their own hiring guidelines and can hire when they want and they can downsize when they want," Brown said.