February 6, 2016

Clemson denies it was aware of hazing traditions claimed in wrongful death lawsuit

Tucker Hipps (Facebook)

Tucker Hipps (Facebook)

Clemson University is denying allegations made in lawsuits filed over a student’s death during a fraternity pledge run in September 2014.

The Greenville News reports Clemson filed the documents this week in response to accusations made by the parents of Tucker Hipps in a March lawsuit. Hipps’ body was found below a Lake Hartwell bridge near campus a few hours after fraternity members reported him missing. The Oconee County Coroner’s Office said Hipps appeared to have died from head injuries consistent with a fall from the Highway 93 bridge.

Two $25 million lawsuits — a wrongful death and personal injury suit — claim Hipps had gotten into a confrontation with an older fraternity brother over his failure to buy breakfast for the frat before the pledge run. The lawsuit was amended in November with a witness who claimed he saw Hipps walking on a railing atop the bridge. The suits also claim Sigma Phi Epsilon has a tradition of pledges being pressured to jump off the bridge and to swim ashore.

In its filing, the school says it had no knowledge that Sigma Phi Epsilon had “a long tradition” of requiring pledges to jump off the bridge. The response also states school officials were never contacted by SPE about permission to hold the early morning pledge run. Clemson maintains the run itself was not a violation of the school’s anti-hazing policies.

The national fraternity and three other students also named in the lawsuit also deny they forced Hipps to walk or jump from the bridge. The students claim Hipps had fallen behind the group and they did not see him fall in the morning darkness.

Oconee County Sheriff’s deputies say the witness account is inconsistent with what their own investigation has found.

House committee drops Board of Regents idea for SC colleges

State Rep. Bill Taylor (Image: SCETV)

State Rep. Bill Taylor (Image: SCETV)

A South Carolina legislative panel has decided against pursuing a new board of regents to oversee all of the state’s public colleges and universities.

Back in March, Republicans in the state House of Representatives fired a warning shot against the current Commission on Higher Education, voting to eliminate the agency that coordinates colleges and universities in South Carolina. Their Senate counterparts rejected the move, so House leaders instead voted to create the Higher Education Governance Ad Hoc Committee to study the idea and consider replacing the commission with a stronger Board of Regents.

“There was clearly a lack of leadership and lack of focus at the commission,” State Rep. Bill Taylor, R-Aiken, said. “And that’s frustrating to the legislature, when they’re supposed to be the one empowered to coordinate all of our public colleges and universities.”

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Cobb-Hunter proposes resolution for tuition free public colleges

State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) is proposing a resolution to encourage the state to push congress to enact legislation so college students can have access to a debt-free education at public colleges and universities.

She joined the Democratic presidential candidates on the issue. “So very proud that the three Democratic candidates for president have all signed on to this notion of a debt free college education,” Cobb-Hunter said.

Debt-free college means that students can graduate from all public colleges and universities with zero debt. Proponents of the effort claim that it can be achieved through a variety of ways, including more federal aid to the states, more aid to students, and innovations that reduce college costs.

Cobb-Hunter said she understands that the resolution will be very hard to pass in the state. “I am very afraid that with all of the issues facing South Carolina this coming year that the issue of student debt will be lower on the priority,” said Cobb-Hunter.

She said at the very least her efforts will shed some light on the issue of student loan debt. ‘It’s important that we start this conversation and that we bring attention to this,” The Orangeburg Democrat said.






USC-Beaufort moves forward with plans for new Hilton Head campus

Artist's rendering of the proposed building that would house the hospitality program (Image: Wood + Partners Inc.)

Artist’s rendering of the proposed building that would house the hospitality program (Image: Wood + Partners Inc.)

The University of South Carolina is set to return to Hilton Head Island after officials with the school and town cleared the way for a small hospitality campus last week.

USC’s board of trustees and the Hilton Head Planning Commission signed off on the plan in separate meetings Dec. 15 and Dec 16. Hilton Head has pledged to use tax increment financing (TIF) to fund most of the $24.5 project that will house the school. USCB will contribute $2.5 million.

The school had a branch on Hilton Head from 1973 until it opened the “Gateway” campus near Bluffton in 2002. “Now the sense is: we need to go back,” Vice Chancellor for Advancement and External Affairs Lynn McGee told South Carolina Radio Network. “We need to be a part of that community.”

Although several more steps remain in the approval process, USCB officials hope to begin construction in Spring 2017. The opening is scheduled for August 2018.

The new center will position the school’s hospitality management program closer to the hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses located on the island, McGee said. “What it gives us is a living, learning laboratory right there,” she said. “And the students are infused and engaged in those top internationally-known facilities, managers and leaders.”

There is strong opposition to the plan among residents of the nearby Sea Pines community. The Hilton Head Island Packet newspaper reports seven critics of the project spoke at last week’s meeting, arguing the new campus would only worsen traffic on the island’s southern end.

New proposal moves away from single test to evaluate teachers

Molly Spearman (File)

Molly Spearman (File)

Teachers in South Carolina would no longer be judged by their students’ scores on end-of-year tests under a proposed revamp unveiled this week.

State Education Superintendent Molly Spearman announced the new proposal this week. The first-year superintendent is seeking to change the current method of using statewide end of course exams to base the student performance section of teacher evaluations. South Carolina school districts began using that method in the 2014-2015 school year, but would not yet be factored into personnel decisions until after 2016.

Instead Spearman is pushing the idea of using multiple tests as part of a teacher’s overall grade, rather than a single one at the end of the school year. The proposal will require approval from the state Board of Education, which Spearman plans to seek in January.

“As State Superintendent, I am proposing that we move to a more commonsense system that does not rely on high stakes tests and gives the best feedback and support for our teachers,” Spearman wrote in a press release Monday.

The changes are possible under the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) approved by Congress and signed by President Obama earlier this month. Under ESSA, states no longer have to tie educator evaluation to student growth as required under previous federal law. South Carolina has already begun to implement an educator evaluation system ADEPT that based 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student growth over the previous three years. Only two years have passed since the state Board of Education made the change, however.

Spearman said the state Department of Education will rely on focus groups to determine any additional changes. The state will continue using its current method through August.