February 9, 2016

House moves to replace SC State board

An Orangeburg legislator is calling for the replacement of the entire board of trustees at South Carolina State University.

State Rep. Jerry Govan (D-Orangeburg)

Rep. Jerry Govan (D-Orangeburg), an SC State alum himself, said with President George Cooper resigning on Friday, now is a good time to restructure the leadership of the embattled school.

On Wednesday, a House higher education panel advanced a proposal by Govan that would require all board members to be reconsidered this year, rather than the staggered years they are currently serving. It would also shrink the board from 13 members to 11 and give alumni the power to elect some seats.

“What we’ve got to do right now is restore public confidence in this university,” Govan said.

SC State has been embroiled by turmoil over the past few months after President Cooper announced ten high-level employees had been fired for “conduct unbecoming of a state employee.” However, after a “no confidence” vote by the Faculty Senate and a closed-door meeting by the board, Cooper tendered his own resignation earlier this month.

Right now, the board has a representative from each congressional district and six at-large seats appointed by the state legislature. Govan proposed eliminating those at-large seats, instead allowing alumni to choose three trustees. A seat for the new Seventh Congressional District would also be added. The governor would keep her one at-large selection.

However, Rep. B.R. Skelton (R-Pickens), a Clemson economics professor, said lawmakers need to be careful so they don’t appear to be micromanaging the school. He said that appearance could hurt the school’s accreditation.

“I just urge you to proceed with caution,” Skelton told the panel Tuesday, “Because you could create a situation where the unintended consequences are worse than the problem you’re trying to correct.”

Skelton said he does not think there is enough time to appoint a board by June 30. Govan disputed that, saying it could be done and that the General Assembly would likely keep some of the board in place. However, both agreed the window would be short should the bill pass.

“Time is of the essence,” Govan said, “We can’t wait. What we need to do is ensure that we have a board in place that the public has confidence in.”

Govan said there are some board members who have “conflicts of interest” who should not be involved in picking the next school president. He would not elaborate, however.

Interim Vice President for Academic Affairs Rita Teal, who take over as Acting President once Cooper leaves Friday, made a brief statement to the panel. She did not comment on Govan’s proposal, only saying “Whatever actions need to be taken to ensure we re-establish the public’s trust and confidence… we will accomplish that.”

The bill now moves to the full House Education and Public Works Committee.

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