GREENE COLUMN: Fixing problems at S.C. State worth the effort

Cynthia Warric (left), interim president of S.C. State University, and Walter Tobin, chairman of the board for the school, address the media Thursday. Buy this photo

S.C. State University's roots run deep in the Lowcountry and beyond.

Talk to anyone who attended a predominantly black public school in the area in the 20th century, and chances are they were taught by at least one, if not several, S.C. State graduates. Several of my own teachers were graduates.

Many of the Lowcountry's college graduates owe their degrees to S.C. State. That was the school's purpose — to educate underserved blacks who were forbidden at white public colleges.

In doing so, the school became an institution in its own right, and with its band and sports, affected generations in the black community and raised leaders that reached far beyond.

The federal indictments Thursday of the school's former board chairman and a business colleague, and a guilty plea by the former police chief, are capturing a lot of attention. And they should.

The school and its board have been mired in controversy for some time now. It struggles with declining enrollment and financial shortfalls.

The federal investigation should be allowed to run its course, and if there is criminal activity, those responsible should be held accountable.

But the 116-year-old institution should be given every opportunity to succeed.

It's still the state's only predominantly black public college, and it has educated thousands of people who may not have gotten an education, because of race or financial constraints.

It needs to stick around and have the freedom to do what it has done best.

Yes, its problems must be fixed. It is not going to be easy, but it will be worth the effort.

The school, the board and the Legislature should do all they can to get the school back on solid ground. And its strong alumni association should dig in and help.

Finding a permanent president is a good start. Current and future students deserve nothing less.

Charleston resident Maurice Washington, a longtime board member, could not comment on the indictments, but he said he has high hopes for his alma mater.

“There is always the potential for good to come from a bad situation.”

A 1985 psychology graduate, Washington said he believes this could lead to a “rebirth” or sense of renewal for the school. Moments like this sometimes bring the “sharpest vision into play.”

He said it will help the school to focus on the future and potentially create a wonderful opportunity for the university.

Washington, who has been president of the local alumni chapter and an alumni board member for decades, said the school's graduates have made considerable contributions to not only the Lowcountry but to the state, country and world.

He said the board will continue searching for a president. The Post and Courier's editorial board got it right when it said the school's board is moving in the right direction, and the General Assembly should allow it to continue its course, Washington said.

The school was a “special place for me,” he said. “We just have to remain focused, offer quality academics and remain student-centered.”

He said S.C. State must continue to “be an institution that gives students who are from disadvantaged neighborhoods a chance to get a higher education and succeed in life.”

Reach Assistant Features Editor Shirley A. Greene at 937-5555, or sgreene@postandcourier.com.

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