A nearly $8,000 ticket to Egypt? A $2,000 trip to San Antonio? A chauffeur-driven Lincoln Navigator? Does the controversial University of the District of Columbia President Allen Sessoms really believe he can simply explain away such extravagant travel expenses as justification for attempting to transform the only land grant urban university in the nation into a first class institution?
We don’t buy it. Neither, apparently does the university’s faculty association which issued a no vote of confidence in Sessoms’ autocratic leadership last month. Add to that growing list of skeptics the D.C. Council, which questioned him as he stumbled through a long afternoon hearing last week.
Sessoms raised the ire of protesting students and the scrutiny of the D.C. Council after Fox 5 News reports revealed that airline and hotel tickets had been purchased for him at prices far above market rates to luxury destinations including Egypt, Hawaii, Torrey Pines, Calif., and Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the entire Sessoms family traveled during the July 4 weekend.
Sessoms has been making the rounds to various news outlets to do damage control, since news of his extravagancies linked out. However the more he “doth protest” with his weak explanations, the more absurd his explanations play.
In answer to the latest uproar, he speaks of the need to travel to raise the university’s profile and prestige. He speaks of the need to travel (in a business class seat bed) with his feet above his head because of a medical condition. He speaks of the questionable funds being expended as coming from private foundations and grants rather than city funds, as if using that private pool of money absolves a public institution from frugality and financial responsibility.
A public institution, by the way, that serves a student body primarily of low-income, low-literacy or working adult students who are making do with fewer resources offered by the historically underfunded school.
In the midst of all of this, we are forced to ask what has the university’s board of trustees been doing while news of Sessoms’ spending spree has been circulating? In one television interview this week, Sessoms stated he hadn’t traveled as much this year as he has in the past.
When students complain of increased tuition, of not getting refunds in a timely manner, of not being able to obtain books in a timely manner, and of not being in safe or comfortable classrooms, the university trustees must fulfill their fiduciary duties to ensure that no one, particularly its president, is spending money – government or otherwise – in a frivolous manner.
On behalf of students and taxpayers, we demand better answers and most importantly, a clear structure of improved accountability moving forward.