I read the Loose Lips column on a fairly regular basis and always wonder how accurate it is. I have found out in the last two columns, June 15 and 22, that the answer is not very! I was contacted by Jonetta Rose Barras regarding the appointment of an interim president for the University of the District of Columbia (UDC). I had the pleasure of sitting next to her at the press conference when the interim president was announced. She seems like a very nice person. Unfortunately, as a reporter, even of gossip, she seems not to take her job very seriously. I have and do know many reporters who are good. They take the time to get their facts straight even if they are being negative. It appears that Barras seems unwilling to take the time to do this. She appears to decide what she wants to say and then finds tidbits of information that will support her point of view, either leaving out parts of the story or just getting simple facts wrong so that her facts will support what she decided to say before even researching the story. That is a real disservice to your readers and to the entire District of Columbia.
In the case of UDC, on June 15, Barras reported that the mayor appointed the chair of the board of trustees, implying that the mayor controls the board. He does notthe board elects its own chair on an annual basis. On June 22, she stated that Timothy Jenkins was appointed to the board by the current mayor. He was not; he was first appointed by then-Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. and reappointed by the current mayor. I sat next to her at the press conference where this was stated, and it could have been easily verified.
It was also stated at the press conference that Jenkins resigned from the board to take on a difficult assignment for us. He did not ask for the assignment or in any way go after a contract. In fact, it was stated at the press conference that Jenkins had asked at that time to be considered for reappointment to the board after his short-term contract expired. It is an interesting revolving door that Barras talks about when the end result will be more volunteer service to the District and the university. Barras throws in the figure of $110,000what Jenkins’ contract would have been on an annual basisand does so in a confusing way rather than stating what it actually is: less than $20,000. She quotes “UDC sources,” which I assume means me, because she asked me about the contract while sitting next to me at the press conference, and I told her I thought it was in that range but that she could easily get the facts by calling the university personnel office. I guess the extra phone call was too much work. (As an aside: Jenkins’ annual income last year would make this small contract look inconsequential.) In addition, Barras states that Jenkins did not provide the board with any reports on his work. This is also utterly false. Jenkins provided the board with an interim report on May 4, 2001, and verbal reports at all executive sessions. As he was requested to do, he submitted a final written report to us on June 19, 2001. Barras was sitting next to me at the press conference; had this matter concerned her, she could have just asked, and I would have been happy to tell her. I guess the truth wouldn’t have met her needs for the story.
Whom all these inaccuracies hurt is really not Jenkinswho knows how much he has been contributing to the university, who has a record of service anyone would be proud ofor the board memberswho as volunteers have worked tirelessly to improve the status of the university. But it is the students, faculty, and staff of the universitywho must listen to another diatribe against a really great institutionwho in the long run are hurt. UDC serves a crucial mission for the citizens of the District. It is the one place where students’ current socioeconomic condition doesn’t prohibit them from gaining the knowledge to become a vital part of the community. It is the place where students have the possibility of improving their lot in life and that of their family. I know what that means. I graduated from the City University of New York, and it gave me my chance in life.
Barras can of course have her point of view (and someone once told me never to get into a fight with a columnist, because the columnist always gets the last word). But I beseech Barras to think before she writes, to get at least all her facts straight and then determine if a short nasty paragraph about one person is worth hurting so many other people at the institution that is the beacon of hope for so many in our city. Ms. Barras, please be my guest at next year’s graduation, see the smiles on the students’ faces as they receive their diplomas, the glow on their families’ faces as they fill the MCI Center, and you may not be so quick to write nasty, inaccurate stories about UDC and those who are trying to serve it in the future.
Board of Trustees
University of the District of Columbia