March 6, 2015

House backs off plan to close SC State, but pushes state takeover

House Ways & Means Committee (Image: SCETV)

House Ways & Means Committee (Image: SCETV)

The South Carolina House of Representatives budget committee on Wednesday backed away from a plan that would close South Carolina State University for two years.

Instead, the Ways and Means Committee unanimously adopted a different proposal that would remove the school’s trustees and turn SC State’s management over to the State Fiscal Accountability Authority (formerly known as the Budget and Control Board). The proposal was included as part of budget language that will come before the full House next month.

SC State is the only public Historically Black College or University (HBCU) in South Carolina.

“(The board of trustees) are divided. Clearly, they’re divided beyond repair right now it looks like right now to us,” State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, said during Wednesday’s meeting. “When all is said and done, we had to address the issues. And we came to the conclusion… it really is as bad or worse than what has been reported.”

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Lawsuit filed on behalf of SC State students

SC State logoCurrent and former students at South Carolina State University have filed a federal lawsuit against the state, accusing it of undermining the state’s only public historically-black institution by offering similar degrees and academic programs at other nearby schools.

The lawsuit filed by Orangeburg attorney Glenn Walters argues the actions by state leaders and the Commission on Higher Education led to enrollment declines. The lawsuit also claims the duplication by “traditionally white institutions” created “separate but equal” conditions that offered students no reason to attend SC State.

“You essentially allow non-blacks to find other avenues for their education and opportunities instead of going to the university that exists right here in Orangeburg County,” Walters told reporters during a press conference announcing the lawsuit.

He also claimed the state legislature violated the constitution’s Equal Protection clause by fully funding the state’s other land grant institution (Clemson University) at the same time it underfunded SC State. Two years ago, the minority education magazine Diverse noted that South Carolina was one of several states that did not fund the historically-black college enough for the school to fully match federal grant funds.

However, House lawmakers point out that SC State University has received significantly higher funding than other public colleges of comparative size (such as Lander and Francis Marion) since 2010. They argue financial issues are due to declining enrollment and mismanagement by the school’s administration.

A state House of Representatives budget committee is considering language that would close SC State for two years until an $18.6 million budget hole can be closed. The Ways & Means Committee was delayed by the inclement weather on Tuesday, however, and pushed back any discussion until Wednesday.

Richard McKnight, an SCSU alum who is named as a plaintiff in the suit, told reporters that he worries his degree will be at risk if the school closes or loses its probation. “I felt like something had to be done because my future was in jeopardy,” he said. “My career was in jeopardy.”

The Commission on Higher Education has not yet responded to the lawsuit.

‘SC State is not going to close’ Hundreds rally against shutdown of struggling school

Students and alumni traveled from Orangeburg to the Statehouse grounds for Monday's rally

Students and alumni traveled from Orangeburg to the Statehouse grounds for Monday’s rally

Hundreds of students and supporters braved frigid temperatures at the Statehouse Monday in support of financially-struggling South Carolina State University.

The crowd gathered a week after a state House panel floated the idea of closing SC State for two years to address its estimated $18.6 million deficit. The proposal was recommended by a House higher education panel as part of next year’s budget plan. It will be taken up by the full Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday.

The NAACP worked with SC State University to organize Monday’s rally, which occurred on a day the General Assembly was not in session. Nevertheless a trio of black legislators who serve on Ways & Means promised the crowd they would do everything they could to stop the proposal. Senate budget leaders also oppose the idea.

“You ought not worry. Don’t you sweat it,” State Rep. Joe Neal, D-Hopkins, told students. “South Carolina State is not going to close.”

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Former Clemson professor arrested on child porn charges

A former Clemson University sociology professor was arrested Thursday, charged with six counts of child porn-related crimes.

67-year-old Larry Peppers was taken into custody by Greenville County deputies after an October search warrant was served at his home. The state Attorney General’s Office said a laptop and other electronic equipment were seized as evidence. Investigators say they found Peppers was sharing child pornography online.

Peppers is charged with two counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Minor, 2nd degree and four counts of Sexual Exploitation of a Minor, 3rd degree. He faces up to 60 years in prison if given the maximum on all counts. Bond was set at $60,000.

Peppers was also an administrator for Leadership Greenville, a training program run by the Greenville Chamber of Commerce. He developed and ran the unusual SimSoc exercise as part of the course, which included participants being divided into different income groups and allocated resources (and lunch) based on where they were chosen.

SC State president refuses to resign after lawmakers say no confidence in leadership

S.C. State University president Thomas Elzey (Image: The Citadel)

S.C. State University president Thomas Elzey (Image: The Citadel)

South Carolina’s African-American legislators say they have lost confidence in the man leading the state’s only public historically-black college.

The Legislative Black Caucus (LBC) released a statement Wednesday opposing a House effort to shut down South Carolina State University for one year to get its finances in shape. But the same statement also criticized current university president Thomas Elzey.

“The Caucus is in full support of the school and feels that all efforts should be made to ensure South Carolina State University does not fail,” the statement from the caucus said. “While it is not certain as to who should lead these efforts, we have no confidence that President Thomas Elzey is that person.”

Elzey responded with his own statement an hour later. “I will not resign. Another presidential turnover at this stage would be detrimental to the University as it relates to our… accreditation. It is obvious and unfortunate that our lawmakers have placed politics ahead of the best interests of the students of this great institution.”

Any decision to remove the president would have to be made by the school’s board of trustees, which hired Elzey roughly two years ago as SC State was spiraling into serious financial problems. The state Budget & Control Board last year approved a $6 million loan to help the school pay its immediate bills to vendors. In December, a legislative panel approved an additional $12 million to be spread over the next three years. Despite the aid, Elzey said the college still owes more than $10 million to vendors on top of the loan it must now repay.

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