A proposal that would dissolve the current makeup of the South Carolina State University board of trustees and replace it with a temporary board is now headed to the Senate after clearing the House Thursday. However, some lawmakers were not happy about how the new board would be selected.
State legislators are still arguing about how to address the future leadership at the school, which has been plagued by major financial and legal problems over the past few months. The move comes a day after the House voted to change an existing bill by Rep. Jerry Govan (D-Orangeburg) that would have required the entire General Assembly to elect a new 11-member board. Instead, the seven-member temporary board would be chosen by the Speaker of the House, Senate President pro tempore, and Governor Nikki Haley. The board would oversee the school until a new one could be elected next year.
“The university can’t, in my opinion, afford to languish while there is this turmoil on the board,” said Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg), who drafted the new version.
Govan said he was afraid the new proposal would hurt SC State’s accreditation in the future. “I think that crosses the line and puts it under the bracket of ‘outside political influence,’” he told South Carolina Radio Network. He added that such an interim board had never been put into place at any college in the state’s history.
Cobb-Hunter said, with only six weeks left in the legislative session, there was not enough time for the General Assembly to pass the bill, screen candidates, and elect an entirely new board.
Govan disputed that. “Those same individuals have dragged their feet on this amendment ever since March,” he said. South Carolina State is the only public “historically-black” college or university in the Palmetto State. Some legislators are concerned that none of the statewide officials who would be able to appoint the interim board are African-American.
The amendment was approved after an effort to table it lost 6 to 51. Govan and other opponents did vote in favor of the final version after losing that vote.
Two SC State board members resigned this week, saying they could no longer deal with the dysfunction at the school. That comes within two months of the school’s president and board chairman resigning and the firing of eight administrators. There is also a federal investigation into the school that is believed to involve several board members.
The Orangeburg Times & Democrat reports the school’s acting president has written a letter to the state Budget & Control Board requesting help in “finance, budget, procurement, technology, and human resources.”
“As a result of facts uncovered during the investigation, I have decided that there are day-to-day operational deficiencies,” Dr. Rita Jackson Teal wrote.
Cobb-Hunter said she and Govan both agree on one thing– change needs to happen this year. “If we do not act, the status quo is what we’ll have,” she said, “And the status quo is not acceptable.”