In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the South Carolina State University board of trustees placed the school’s president on paid administrative leave.
The vote followed a three-hour meeting behind closed doors as the trustees discussed the contract of President Thomas Elzey. Elzey was hired in 2013 as the school was already entering a financial tailspin, but state leaders did not think he was doing enough to reduce the school’s estimated $17 million deficit ($11 million owed to vendors and an outstanding $6 million loan from the state). Publicly, the board had opposed the idea of removing him until Monday’s meeting.
“We think the decisions we’ve made today are strong,” board secretary Ronald Henegan, Sr., told reporters afterwards. “And we stand behind them.”
The vote comes as South Carolina legislators move to have the state take over the school. Both the House and Senate are discussing separate proposals that would remove SC State’s board of trustees and replace it with another board appointed directly by the governor and legislative leaders.
Interim Provost W. Franklin Evans has been named Acting President while state and school leaders sort out what happens next. Evans also led the school briefly in 2013 on an interim basis before trustees eventually hired Elzey.
“Under my leadership, we will continue to move forward in preserving the rich legacy of excellence that is SC State University,” Evans said in a statement after the vote. “These are critical times at SC State; therefore, it is imperative that we remain focused on the matters most important to the institution’s short-and long-term sustainability.”
Elzey still has three years remaining on his contract. The Associated Press reports his salary is $305,000.
Some lawmakers and alumni did not support the vote. Even though he agreed Elzey needed to be replaced, State Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg, said he would have preferred the board wait until state lawmakers figured out their next step.
“I don’t know what we can gain by firing a president for two or three weeks, then we put a new board in place and they’ve got to hire somebody,” he told South Carolina Radio Network before the vote. “So you have another change at the top. I just think the continuity would be better if they’d wait.”