A judge has ordered South Carolina State University trustees not to fire suspended President Thomas Elzey.
State Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson on Wednesday agreed with President Elzey’s arguments that he never had a chance to be heard when the board of trustees placed him on administrative leave last month. The judge said it appears the board members are about to be fired themselves by state legislators and Elzey should have the opportunity to argue for his job with whatever body replaces the trustees.
“As the Trustees responsible for making decisions regarding (Elzey’s) employment are about to change and new decision makers will take their places, it is in the public’s best interest to Stay any further action until such change in leadership occurs,” Dickson wrote in his ruling.
State senators on Wednesday gave their approval to a resolution that would replace the SC State board with an entirely new panel appointed directly by legislative leaders and the governor. The 41-1 vote came after two hours of debate about the school’s future. The House is working on a similar plan, although that version would have a state financial board select a CEO for the school, rather than an oversight panel.
Elzey filed the breach of trust lawsuit on Tuesday, saying the trustees had made him a scapegoat for ongoing financial troubles. The complaint also argued the president suffered lost wages, mental anguish, humiliation, and even physical injuries due to the strife between him and the board.
Meanwhile, the trustees pledged to keep moving forward with their separation from the college’s leader of the past 19 months. Following a two-hour legal briefing that was closed to the public, the board voted 8-1 to have the school’s attorney continue negotiating with Elzey for a resolution. Judge Dickson gave both sides until March 12 to come up an arrangement outside of court.
Elzey’s complaint noted he had been told to “clean out his desk,” before being placed on paid leave last week. Interim Provost W. Franklin Evans has been serving as acting president in Elzey’s absence.
Senators made it clear Wednesday that they want the board gone. “To some extent, I think President Elzey has gotten a bad rap,” State Sen. Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, said during floor debate. “If not for President Elzey, I don’t think much of this stuff would’ve come to light. I think President Elzey disclosed some very bad stuff that was going on at that university.” However, he admitted that he was unhappy with the school’s situation not improving under Elzey’s leadership.
But State Sen. Gerald Malloy, D-Darlington, questioned whether replacing the board would actually change anything. “What are they going to do?” he asked rhetorically. “There is no plan. And that board, or any other board, is not the ‘Fix-All’ for the university.”
Malloy was the lone “no” vote on the proposal. The resolution heads to the House after another procedural vote on Wednesday.