ORANGEBURG -- S.C. State University's board acknowledged alleged criminal, ethical and mismanagement problems on the campus in the wake of President George Cooper's announcement Friday that he would resign.

As the board plans to begin a search for a new leader, the university continues its ongoing internal investigation involving "criminal allegations," according to lawyer Reggie Lloyd, former chief of the State Law Enforcement Division.

Hundreds of students, faculty and staff members gathered as Cooper made the announcement that he was stepping down at a Friday morning news conference at the state's only public historically black university.

It came amid speculation on the nature of the ongoing but unspecified internal investigation, a call from faculty leaders that the board remove Cooper, and the recent firings of eight top-level employees.

Cooper said he will step down on March 30 to spend more time with his family and to pursue other interests. "Please note my departure is voluntary," he said.

Cooper also said he would be paid $268,000, and that he had entered into a "standard mutual legal release."

University spokeswoman Erica Taylor said the money would come from a private source but that she could not elaborate further.

Cooper referred briefly to the ongoing investigation. "In the last three months, this university has been challenged by many issues beyond my control," he said.

Cooper has been president since 2008. The Board of Trustees fired him in May 2010 but rehired him two weeks later when two new members took seats on the board.

Lloyd also spoke at the press conference, saying that the university investigation involves "criminal allegations."

"Those problems extend from the board throughout the campus administration," said Lloyd, whom the school hired to deal with matters related to the investigation. Criminal concerns have been referred to the proper agencies, where those accused will be allowed proper due process, he said.

Lloyd said the investigation also has uncovered ethical and management problems, but he would not specifically describe the nature of those problems.

"Everybody recognizes that there are problems that have long existed here," he said. Many issues relating to criminal, ethical and legal matters are "symptomatic of much more deep problems that have existed on campus."

Trustee Robert Nance, secretary of the board, said the board offered a heartfelt apology to students, faculty, staff, alumni and the residents of South Carolina for allegations of criminal misconduct and ethical and management problems.

"Today, we begin a long hard journey to restore, rebuild and re-establish confidence, integrity and trust in our beloved university," he said.

Nance also said the board soon would begin a search for an interim, then a permanent president.

Ebony Dyson, a freshman from Philadelphia, said after the news conference that she was disappointed that she had not received more detailed information on what was going on. Students were left with many questions, she said, and she wants to know why things are falling apart.

Kenneth Freeman, a sophomore from McCormick, said he is afraid that the school could lose its accreditation.

Kenneth McClary, who last year as a senior launched a petition drive calling for Cooper's resignation, said he is pleased that Cooper announced he would step down. "It's about time," said McClary, now a graduate student.

He said he hopes the next president is someone who has no political ties, and isn't beholden to anybody. He thinks that will make the school a strong historically black university, "like Hampton and Howard and Spelman and Morehouse."

 

July 2008 -- The Board of Trustees hires George Cooper, former deputy administrator for Science and Education Resources Development with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, as its 10th president.

May 2010 -- The university's board decides against continuing Cooper's contract, effectively firing him.

June 2010 -- The board, with two new members, rehires Cooper. Later that month, a group of lawmakers requests that their watchdog group investigate financial and other issues at the university's James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center.

January 2011 -- The university's Faculty Senate votes that it has "no-confidence" in Cooper and his administration.

March 2011 -- Students circulate a petition detailing complaints with the campus and administration, which garners more than 500 signatures.

June 2011 -- The Legislative Audit Council releases a report citing extreme mismanagement problems at the Clyburn transportation center.

Feb. 10, 2012 -- Cooper fires eight high-level employees as part of an unspecified internal investigation.

Feb. 24, 2012 -- Board Chairman Jonathan Pinson, who had voted in favor of rehiring Cooper in 2010, steps down as chairman but continues to serve as a trustee.

March 2, 2012 -- Cooper resigns and agrees to step down March 30. Board members say they soon will begin the search for an interim, then a permanent president.