ORANGEBURG — Thomas Elzey’s introduction as president of South Carolina State University came with controversy, but he says he can stand the heat.
After a morning of contentious discussion, the university’s Board of Trustees voted 6-5 Thursday to hire him as the school’s next president.
Elzey currently is executive vice president for finance, administration and operations at The Citadel. He will take the reins at the state’s only public historically black university on June 15.
Cynthia Warrick, who is the school’s interim president, was a write-in candidate and landed the votes of the other five board members.
Board Chairman Walter Tobin said Elzey was hired from among three finalists for the job because he was highly qualified. Tobin especially cited Elzey’s financial background and the variety of higher-education institutions for which he had worked.
Board members who voted against Elzey said they thought the process by which he was hired was flawed. They thought a meeting on the search held last week was illegal, and they think board members who support Elzey sought the advice of an attorney other than university attorney Peter Wilborn, a move they also thought tarnished the process.
Elzey said he was ready to take on the task of leading the troubled school, which is struggling with financial problems and declining enrollment. “I was born ready for this,” he said.
“I have been given the opportunity to make a difference here. This is an honor.”
Elzey said he first will take time to get to know the university community. Then he plans to use his knowledge of management and administration to move the school forward.
Tobin said the details of Elzey’s contract, salary and other compensation had not been finalized, but he said the board will release that information as soon as it is available.
Trustee Tony Grant, during a public portion of the meeting, said some members of the board had found a private donor to cover $100,000 of Elzey’s salary each year for the next four years. He did not identify the donor.
Elzey currently is paid $257,254 in his executive vice president position at The Citadel; $187,254 of that comes from the state and $70,000 from private sources.
Former S.C. State President George Cooper was paid about $200,000, about $145,000 of that from the state and $55,000 from the University Advancement Foundation.
Dozens of students who wanted Warrick to be hired as the school’s permanent president came to the board room to question Elzey. Many of them held up withdrawal forms in protest.
Joel Rice, a junior from North Charleston, said Warrick demonstrated that she supported students. He also said he and other students didn’t think the board listened to them. If they had, Rice said, they would have hired Warrick.
But Rice said he has no intention of withdrawing from school. “I’m going to give him a chance,” he said of Elzey. “He did just get here. But I’m kind of iffy on him.”
Elzey said he was certain he could relate to students. He grew up in Chicago in a family that didn’t have a lot of money, he said. He knows what it’s like to struggle to afford college.
He told students he would work to make sure S.C. State was a quality institution and that their degrees were valuable.
The school’s Faculty Senate also was opposed to Elzey being hired. The group issued a statement in support of Leonard McIntyre, interim dean of the College of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences at S.C. State and one the three finalists for the job.
Elzey said he planned to work hard to bring faculty members the resources they need to do their jobs. “They couldn’t ask for a better champion,” Elzey said.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @ dianeknich.