President Edington Remarks, Founders’ Day

President Edington Remarks, Founders’ Day

President Edington Remarks, Founders’ Day

Prepared Remarks

Thursday, February 15, 2024
UDC Theater of the Arts

Good morning and welcome. And thank you for that warm introduction, Dr. Udeochu. I am Maurice Edington, the 10th president of the University of the District of Columbia. And I am honored to be with you today as we gather to commemorate the founding of this incredible University and celebrate the achievements of some of our most esteemed students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

I am pleased to recognize the members of our Board of Trustees along with Chairman Christopher Bell. I’d also like to recognize our Executive Cabinet, Deans, Faculty Senate Chair Arlene King-Berry and faculty members, as well as our staff, students and alums.  I’d also like to recognize our first lady, my lovely wife Tonya, who is also with us today.

You may have noticed from this morning’s program that there’s a theme to this Founders’ Day Celebration: Delivering on the Promise.

The word “promise” has two primary definitions. The first is commitmentto promise is to commit that your words will be paired with corresponding actions.

The second definition is potential – a university with promise is one that demonstrates the potential for greatness.

To deliver on the promise, then, is to fully commit to and fully realize the immense potential of this storied institution. An institution whose roots were planted 173 years ago in the firm belief that all people deserve a high-quality education. An institution that has evolved through many iterations but always stood for social justice and as a beacon of opportunity. An institution whose best days lie ahead.

And the time to deliver on that promise is now. We offer some of the highest-ranked academic programs in the country. We’re a sought-after destination for research and partnerships. We’re one of the top-ranked public HBCUs in the nation. Let’s convert that success into momentum that propels us into the future.

This morning, I’d like to take you on a brief journey that looks at how we’ll get there. You’ll be pleased to know, we already have a roadmap – our strategic plan. The plan sets bold goals for UDC. And though they may sound lofty, I have full confidence that we will achieve them.

UDC will become a world-class flagship university for the nation’s capital. A national model for urban student success. A workforce and economic mobility engine for the District. A research and innovation hub that addresses the District’s critical needs. A University that unites all its stakeholders in support of a shared vision, One UDC.

We can and we will do all of these things. We will rise to this occasion – this moment in time – because that is what we do as Firebirds – we rise.

But before we press our foot down on the gas, let’s take a quick look in the rearview.

One thing you might not know about me is that I see life as one big movie. My friends, family, the grocery store clerk – they’re all characters. Whatever’s playing on the living-room speakers or in my earbuds is the soundtrack. And all of it makes up the ever-evolving story of my life.

I look at UDC in much the same way. There’s an ever-evolving story about who we are and where we’re headed as a university – and each of us plays a role. But the thing about movies is you can’t just walk into the theater halfway through and expect to understand what’s going on. To get the full context, you’ve got to start from the beginning.

From its earliest origins, the University of the District of Columbia has always stood on the frontlines of reform. When our students, faculty and alumni see an opportunity to fight for change, we don’t retreat – we run toward it.

The very idea of a national university in the U.S. capital was itself bold, championed by several of our founding fathers, including President George Washington as early as 1790. Washington envisioned a national university that would bring together “youth from all parts of the United States.” Together, they would study the arts, literature, the sciences, politics. They would engage in meaningful debate and discussion, growing collectively stronger through an honest exploration of their differences and of the society they were building together. A national university would prepare them to lead.

Fast-forward a half-century and our oldest predecessor institution – the Myrtilla Miner Normal School for Colored Girls – was taking shape. While the nation teetered on the brink of war, the abolitionist-led Miner School fought fearlessly for reform – training Black teachers and pushing for racial equity in a city where slavery was still the order of the day.

By the early 1930s, the Miner Normal School had evolved into Miner Teachers College, a four-year, tuition-free college for Black D.C. residents during the Jim Crow era. In 1955, it would merge with Wilson Teachers College – built to educate white students – following the landmark Brown versus Board decision that extinguished the “separate but equal” doctrine.

As the newly formed DC Teachers College sought to find its footing in the 1950s and ’60s, there was a growing need for a four-year liberal arts college and a vocational school. In 1966, those calls were answered with legislation establishing two new institutions: Federal City College, a four-year university, and Washington Technical Institute, focusing on workforce training.

Each of these new schools opened during an incredibly tumultuous time for the District and the nation. It was 1968. Protests ignited by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ravaged the city. Poverty was rampant. And the nation was ensnared in a seemingly endless war in Vietnam.

And yet these schools moved boldly forward, embodying Black excellence in a majority-Black city and attracting thousands of the city’s best and brightest. And each did more than merely educate – they innovated. They inspired change. They, once again, stood on the frontlines of reform. A program at Federal City College, for example, provided a college education to inmates at a D.C. prison in Lorton, Virginia.

That spirit of reform carried through into the 1970s. The District had attained Home Rule, allowing D.C. residents to finally have a say in how their city was run. And Washington was taking another giant step forward in higher education: consolidating its three public higher-ed institutions into one, comprehensive, public university in the nation’s capital.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of sitting down with a few of our alumni from this formative moment in the District’s history. These are individuals who pioneered this new experiment in higher education as students at DC Teachers College, Federal City College and Washington Technical Institute in the 1970s.

Here’s what they had to say about that time:


GAIL JONES: “Washington, D.C. is the focal point for so many of the political and social changes that were going on. So here at Federal City, and then on to the University of the District of Columbia, we had teachers who cared about what was happening and making sure that we knew what was happening.” 

MICHAEL MARSHALL: “There was a strong sense of pride, we were just going thru Home Rule, all of those things. Our professors were all licensed engineers and everything and so they instilled in us that desire and ability to be part of the renaissance of our city since the riots of ’68.”

BARBARA JONES: “My parents were in the Civil Rights movement. And DC Teachers College was affordable, it was community-oriented. … The people in the community would welcome DC Teachers College students, Federal City College and Washington Tech. … There was so much love in the community.”

As UDC moved through the 1980s and into the 1990s, its progress and its challenges were intertwined with those of its hometown. A District budget crisis in the ’90s led a Control Board to manage the city’s finances. And the University watched its resources – and its enrollment – wane. It was a difficult time for the institution and for the city. But as Firebirds do, we persevered and rose to the occasion.

In addition to chatting with some of our 1970s alums, I also recently had the pleasure of speaking to alumni from the 1990s. Here is what current Board of Trustee Member Toni White-Richardson shared from that era.


TONI WHITE-RICHARDSON: “I was in graduate school. We were under the Control Board, and the budget had been slashed like no other. It was impacting the facilities and what we were offering and staffing, and all issues at the University. But what I liked is that they kept pushing forward regardless.”

By the late 1990s, UDC was on a steady incline. The Antioch School of Law had joined our fold, renamed for civil rights attorney and D.C. Council member David A. Clarke. And more Firebirds were flocking to our campuses.

Well into the 21st century, we’ve continued to spread our wings and expand our reach. In 2009, we added a community college. In 2010, we unveiled the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences. We opened a gleaming Student Center, designed by a UDC alum. We’ve added new programs that better meet the needs of our local workforce. We’ve significantly boosted research funding and corporate partnerships. We pivoted to virtual offerings during Covid and now sport state-of-the-art facilities to support HyFlex learning. And in 2023, we celebrated our first Ph.D. students.

And we’re just getting started.

Today, UDC is the only public university in the nation’s capital. A comprehensive institution offering high-quality, experiential academic opportunities in an urban environment. A proud historically Black university that routinely pays tribute to that legacy. Home to more than 70 degree programs, a nationally recognized law school, a bustling community college and workforce development programs. We have campuses throughout the D.C. area. And we are building every day on that 18th-century vision of a national university in Washington as we prepare the next generations of leaders and changemakers.

Now I’m a chemist by training, and that means I thrive on data. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very interested in personal stories and the impact that UDC students, faculty and alumni are making on their community. But I’m also keenly interested in how our numbers show our progress.

I’d be the first to tell you our numbers are impressive.

UDC is the #14 public HBCU in the country. Our Computer Engineering program is ranked #1 among HBCUs. Our law school’s clinical training program is tied for #13 in the nation. Our School of Business and Public Administration recently earned an international accreditation given to less than 6% of schools offering business degrees in the world. We are one of the select university partners across the U.S. for the NASA-MIRO program. In fiscal year 2022, we received more than $41 million in research funding. And last year, we landed the biggest corporate grant in UDC’s history: $2 million.

And that’s just the highlight reel.

In our quest to become a world-class flagship university for the nation’s capital, we are already in the fast lane.

Our faculty are nationally and internationally recognized. UDC faculty members – such as Dr. Afiya Fredericks, Professor Marcy Karin and Dr. Leah Claiborne – are regularly in the spotlight for prestigious fellowships, distinguished roles abroad and achievements in the arts.

Our faculty have contributed research to national conversations on brain aging among Black men, bilingual conversational technology, racism in nursing, female athletes of color, and machine learning in deepfake detection.

Our students – such as Joshua Cato, Marzieh Savadkhoohi and Sade Clarke – are on the national stage, serving in leadership roles in their fields, taking top honors at conferences, and seeing their work in major publications.

Our student-athletes are high achievers both on the court and off, with UDC players and teams earning national All-Academic recognition.

Our alumni are moving into successful careers in architecture, cybersecurity, filmmaking, information technology and nursing. They include courtroom judges, Emmy winners, Microsoft engineers and nonprofit executives.

We are a sought-after research destination for funding agencies, including NASA, Microsoft, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Army and the National Science Foundation. Our research centers are actively finding solutions in nanotechnology, water resources and climate change.

We make a habit of serving our local and national community. Last year, some 88 UDC Law student-attorneys provided 33,200 hours of free legal services to the community. Our Firebird Farm and urban food hubs donate more than 4 tons of fresh produce to the community annually. We work with underserved youth in the District, including a recent environmental justice internship for high school students.

We regularly engage with and lift up our fellow HBCUs, sponsoring and attending conferences, partnering on academic programs, and celebrating our many alumni who’ve made an impact – including the “grandfather of Black basketball” and Miner Normal School alum Dr. Edwin B. Henderson.

But for all of the progress we’ve made and achievements we’ve accomplished, our best days lie ahead of us.

The UDC I envision as President centers on three pillars:

  1. Excellence in student achievement
  2. Strong alignment with local workforce needs
  3. Impactful service to the community

The vision is simple: We excel. We work. We serve. Those things have always been part of our DNA. We have long produced high achievers that take on top roles in their field. Prepared our students to walk straight off our campus into careers. Inspired innovators and leaders who give back to their communities.

But now, as we take this opportunity to build on all our incredible momentum, we can move even further and faster down the road to fulfilling our promise.

Delivering on the promise of all that UDC can be means setting and attaining some bold goals:

  • Becoming a world-class flagship university for the nation’s capital.
  • A national model for urban student success.
  • A workforce and economic mobility engine for the District.
  • A research and innovation hub that addresses the District’s critical needs.
  • A University that unites all its stakeholders in support of a shared vision, One UDC. 

To meet those bold goals, over the next five years we will be embarking on an ambitious strategic plan.

The plan breaks down this vision and these goals into tangible components, such as: Student success outcomes. Academic program quality. Workforce development. Faculty and staff excellence. Outreach and engagement.

It lays out specific, data-driven goals and strategies that allow us to do more than merely identify where we want to go. They identify what meeting these goals looks like. How we’ll get there. And how to measure how far we’ve come.

We want our university to be a national model for urban student success. What does that look like? It looks like increased program completion rates, higher retention rates, better post-graduate outcomes.

How do we get there? By expanding academic support services. Boosting scholarship opportunities and financial aid. Adding more dual enrollment and early-college programs.

How do we measure our progress? By reviewing the data and seeing how we’re measuring up, both against ourselves and our peers in public education. Right now, our graduation rate for associate and bachelor’s degrees is 35 percent. In 2029, let’s hit or exceed 65 percent. Right now, we award some 785 degrees annually. In 2029, let’s hit or beat 1,500. Right now, we have about $10.8 million in research and development spending. Let’s aim for $15 million a year by 2029.

In five years, this University will look profoundly different from the one in which we are gathered. It will still have high-quality academic programs. It will still offer workforce training aligned with the District’s needs. And it will always have an incredible legacy of individuals who stood on the frontlines of reform.

But its transformation will be unmistakable as it moves swiftly toward becoming a world-class, flagship university for the nation’s capital.

This is not easy work. And these are daring goals – some might say impossible.

But anyone who would doubt our immense potential doesn’t know UDC. They don’t know you. They don’t know me. They have yet to be touched by the heat of Firebird pride.

And as far as I’m concerned, whether you’re a student, alum, faculty member, staff member, elected official or community member, anyone who’s invested in the success of UDC is an honorary Firebird. And we’re unstoppable when we come together – when we equally invest in each other and in a shared vision of greatness for this University. One UDC.

When I sat down with alumni a few weeks ago, each spoke about their own unique UDC journey. But woven into each story was a common theme: UDC changed their lives.


MELVIN WITTEN: UDC again gave me a foundation. … I just think that UDC prepares you for the next level.

TONI WHITE-RICHARDSON: Awesome that I get an opportunity to be in my town, where I was born and raised and be part of an institution, a University, where there’s a long history of very prominent African-Americans, and I can say that I’m in the rolls. Not so much being prominent, but having been in the rolls of joining Black folks who’ve made a difference.

BERNARD GRAYSON: The camaraderie that I was able to achieve here with fellow students internationally. … They changed my perspective globally on everything that was happening in the world, as a young person from Southeast D.C. … And I was just able to develop the person that I turned out to be.

GAIL JONES: UDC isn’t just about getting a degree. It’s about turning that flame into a blazing inferno of positive change.

Firebirds, we are the inheritors of an incredible legacy. And we have an incredible responsibility to keep the UDC flame burning bright as we move forward. Alighting the way as we transform into a world-class, flagship university for the nation’s capital.

Let us deliver on the promise. Let us rise to this occasion – this moment in time – together. Let us rise.

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