James Hampton had the grades and SAT score that would have opened the enrollment door at almost any college.
The 1999 honor graduate of S.C. State University in Orangeburg chose the school that generations of his family members had attended. "It provided a level of comfort to me I couldn't find anywhere else," said Hampton, an engineer at Lockheed Martin in Atlanta and a board member of the university's foundation. "It put me in a position for success."
But the Stall High School graduate said that like many alumni of the state's only public historically black university, he is concerned about the way the school withholds information that should be public.
People with close ties to the school know the way it tends to operate, Hampton said. Public information "sometimes is going to be made public and sometimes it's going to be hidden, and nobody thinks that's right."
In recent years, the university often has withheld, or attempted to withhold, important or controversial information from the public.
Sometimes it eventually released the information after demands from the public and pressure from the media.
Some of those incidents include:
Hampton said that after such incidents, "the school had to build confidence and credibility with not only stakeholders and those who love the university but with taxpayers." The school needs to be transparent from the start so it can put out a consistent message, he said. And it simply has to learn to work better with the media.
"People want S.C. State to say, 'Hey, here's what's going on and this is the truth about the issue,' " Hampton said.
S.C. State political science professor Willie Legette said the issue is simple: "It's a public institution and the public has a right to know."
The university's credibility has taken some hits lately, Legette said. More transparency could restore and maintain it.
The public needs to know that the university "is governed in a way that deserves the public trust," Legette said.
Some people with ties to the university think the institution faces greater scrutiny than other public agencies, he said. "They may be under a certain level of scrutiny that others are not," he said, "but that simply means they have to govern better."
The quality of governance at the university really is the core issue, he said. "People want more information when they are concerned about how it's governed."
Sunshine Week Stories
This week, The Post and Courier explains why state Freedom of Information laws are important to you.Sunday: Who is ignoring and blatantly violating sunshine laws, and why you should care.Monday: How technology enables government agencies to provide records but avoid providing them as well.Tuesday: How federal medical records laws are used as an excuse to hide state records.TODAY: S.C. State University continues keeping secrets when transparency is needed.Thursday: The legal battle over school superintendent evaluations.Friday: The education of police departments on what the public has a right to know.Saturday: What happens when residents request public records.