Members of South Carolina’s Commission on Higher Education have asked a state government watchdog to investigate reports that the boards of the state’s three research universities spend excessive amounts on travel and food.
Commission members voted last week asked the state Inspector General’s office to review the boards of trustees for the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), Clemson and the University of South Carolina (USC). The vote last week came after a Charleston Post & Courier report found MUSC’s board was reimbursed more than $600,000 the last five years for luxury hotels, restaurants and alcohol. Clemson University’s board was reimbursed more than $700,000 during the same time frame.
Commission Chairman Tim Hofferth said he and other members were concerned about the appearance of the spending and its potential impact on the ever-increasing tuition and fees students pay. He said the commission has tried to focus on cost in its decision-making for much of the past year.
“I think there are some fundamentals that just don’t add up,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “So what we’re doing is saying we’ve got to change the trajectory of costs in higher education.”
It’s unclear what the commission could do with the audit’s findings beyond making them public. The Commission on Higher Education approves new degrees, academic programs and construction projects at each of the state’s two-year and four-year public colleges. However, the agency does not control boards of trustees like Clemson, MUSC and USC who are appointed by legislators.
Hofferth said all three research universities do excellent work and he does not want to jump to any conclusions at this time.
“We will withhold from any opinions that we might have. Because, quite frankly, there may be explanations,” he said. “That (Post & Courier report) could have been out-of-context. If it was, we need to have the facts and then support our institutions and come to their defense to help explain that.”
Hofferth said commissioners had not previously planned on voting for the audit until hearing concerns that trustees were spending lavishly while in town for board meetings. He said the commission had not spoken with the Inspector General’s Office prior to the vote.
“All universities’ Boards of Trustees are poisoned by this allegation,” fellow Commissioner Hood Temple said in an announcement. “We need to gather the facts in order to address the public’s concern or to defend our schools against these reports, should the allegations prove to be unfounded.”