By Sam Doku, PhD.
The Board of Trustees of the University of the District of Columbia, after a nation-wide search, has appointed former law professor and administrator, Dr. Ronald L. Mason as the University’s ninth president and fourth in nearly twenty years.
Dr. Mason succeeds Dr. Allen Sessoms, who was fired a couple of years ago after complaints from stakeholders of the University that he was being ostentatious for the good of UDC. In the interim, Dr. James Lyons served as UDC’s president from March 2013 to June 2015.
Among the immediate challenges of Dr. Mason will be first winning the trust of faculty and the student body, retention of students, launching of a vigorous recruitment campaign for new students, and building a salubrious relationship with the community.
However, before accepting the job, Dr. Mason did his homework meticulously, so he knew the shortcomings of some of his predecessors that led to their downfall.
In a letter to the University community, Dr. Mason expressed his desire to making UDC an educational paragon and a paradigm to be emulated. “From the feedback I have received, I sense that a realistic goal for us is to build a public system of higher learning, one that serves the residents of the District of Columbia in a way that can be the model for the nation,” said Mason.
Mason, who holds a BA and JD degrees from Columbia University and a doctorate degree from Harvard Institute of Educational Management, was tapped from Southern University and A.M. College System, where he was simultaneously the president and chief executive officer.
DC Mayor Muriel Yoyo Bowser panegyrized UDC’s Board of Trustees for its choice of Mason as the University’s ninth president. “I welcome Ronald Mason to the District of Columbia and look forward to collaborating with him to develop programs and initiatives that will better serve residents. I congratulate the Board of UDC for its selection of a leader with a wealth of experience as they work together to transform the District’s only public university,” said Bowser.
Chair of the Board, Dr. Elaine Crider expressed her confidence in Mason to succeed where many before him fell short. “The president is a proven leader. Ron has enhanced community education in many parts of the country; Ron’s exceptional leadership elevated community relationships, responsible governance, and a strong student-oriented focus in his previous roles and will do the same for our university as we continue to implement our vision 20/20 strategic plan,” said Crider.
Mason was selected from 91 applicants. The Search Committee was spearheaded jointly by Major General Errol R. Schwartz and Joseph Askew, Jr. First founded in antebellum America as Myrtilla Miner Normal College for Colored Girls on the campus of Howard University in 1851, it metamorphosed to Miner Normal Teachers College in 1929 following an Act of Congress. In the meantime, through the same Act, Norman Wilson College for White Girls also became a teacher’s college, but in 1955 following the Supreme Court ruling in 1954 that desegregated public schools in the country, the two colleges were merged to establish DC Teachers College..
In 1974 when the District was granted home rule, three independent colleges–DC Teachers College, Federal City College, and Washington, DC Technical Institute– merged to form the University of the District of Columbia under the umbrella of a comprehensive university with Dr. Lisle Carlton Carter as its first president.
Among some of the famous alumni UDC has produced over the years are Kathy Lanier, current chief of police in the District, Melvin Wright, Associate Judge at DC Superior Court; John Thompson, Hall of Fame coach and former basketball coach of Georgetown University; Michael Pearson, Associate Judge at Prince George’s County Circuit Court, and Iris Settles, author of Rising Above the Dream.
Others are Norma Holloway Johnson, Federal Judge and an expert on African eagle, a rare fish; Clarence Holbart, designer of Eritrea’s currency; Denis Antoine, Granada’s ambassador to the United States; Kia Bakersville of CBS, a TV producer; Euphenia Lofton Hayes, first African American woman to earn a PhD in Mathematics; Branislav Andjelic, an Internet pioneer, economist, and Serbian politician; Portia Holmes Shields, first female president of Albany State University in New York; James A. Williams, Superintendent of Buffalo City Schools in New York, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, president of Hip Hop Caucus, and Lyn McCain, co-founder of DC Youth Orchestra.
The University of the District of Columbia is an accredited Historically Black College or University (HBCU), and the nickname for its sports teams is the Firebirds. The University’s men’s basketball team gave the District its first NCAA II basketball championship in 1983 before the Hoyas of Georgetown, led by UDC alumnus, John Thompson followed suit in 1984 with the NCAA I title.