ORANGEBURG — Leadership at South Carolina State University is in such disarray that it remains unclear who is in charge.
The school’s Board of Trustees failed Tuesday to resolve an ongoing dispute over who is chairman. Board members Walter Tobin and Patricia Lott both claim to hold the group’s top post, after each of them won in separate elections.
And trustee John Corbitt said he thinks he continues to hold the post of acting chairman until the board properly elects a new leader. Corbitt has said that Peter Wilborn, the board’s attorney, advised the group that the two previous elections for the chairman’s position were not legal under the board’s bylaws.
The board had scheduled a teleconference Tuesday to vote again on who would be chairman, but only five the group’s 11 members dialed into the meeting. Wilborn advised members that they could not legally hold a meeting if the majority of members were not present.
Board members Lott, Corbitt, Linda Edwards Duncan, Tony Grant and Robert Nance called in to the meeting.
Tobin, Maurice Washington, Robert Waldrep, Gail Joyner-Fleming, Jonathan Pinson and Dennis Nielsen did not call in.
Board members did not say how they might resolve matter. The board tentatively has committee meetings scheduled Nov. 15 and a full board meeting scheduled Dec. 6.
In a memo obtained by The Post and Courier, Wilborn urged board members before the meeting Tuesday to resolve the matter, he and offered a suggestion on how they might do that. But board members did not heed their lawyer’s advice.
In the memo, Wilborn warned that the “election drama pushes this university closer to the brink.” He encouraged the group not to hold another divisive election that effectively would create two warring boards.
Doing that, he said, would “continue to cast a horrible light on the university with the press, the Legislature and the university community.”
Instead, Wilborn encouraged the board to seek the opinion of the state’s Attorney General on how legally to proceed. And he suggested that they allow Tobin to hold the position of chairman until the Attorney General offers an opinion.
At the board’s Sept. 27 election, Tobin won in a three-way race for chairman. Tobin received five votes, Lott received four and Corbitt received two.
Tobin was declared the winner, and was handed the gavel, even though the board’s bylaws require the chairman to receive a minimum of six votes, which represents a majority of the 11 seated members.
The six board members who did not vote for Tobin later realized the election was not legal, and called for another vote on Oct. 17, Corbitt has said.
Lott won the chairman’s seat in that election in a 6-0 vote. The five members who supported Tobin did not attend the meeting.
Corbitt said the six board members later learned that election also was not legal under the board’s bylaws because members were not given a five-day notice before it was held.
Wilborn, in his memo, also encouraged board members to move beyond the argument over who is chairman to the huge amount of work that must be done at the struggling school.
The university has pressing issues to deal with including budget problems, an outside audit and a continuing federal investigation, he said.
Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.