S.C. State’s precarious position
You’d hope that Thursday’s indictment of a former S.C. State board chairman, a former S.C. State police chief and a business associate in a kickback scheme would signal that the Orangeburg university has reached its nadir.
Sadly, we are told there are more indictments to come.
Meanwhile, the school is in a financial hole. And its enrollment has dropped precipitously.
If the state’s only historically black public university can’t turn things around, and soon, it risks losing much-needed support of the people who have been in its corner.
For several years, the administration of S.C. State has played defense — trying to deflect criticism of its bookkeeping, planning and management.
That must not continue. S.C. State needs to take the offensive — convince its staff, students, alumni and the taxpayers that it can and will right the listing ship and chart a sure course to the kind of fiscal soundness and academic excellence that the state should expect from its colleges and universities.
The people of South Carolina have been patient as more and more of S.C. State’s problems have been revealed. They want the school to survive and thrive. They are aware of the important role it has played in the education of black men and women in South Carolina.
But mismanagement is one thing. Corruption is another altogether.
It’s especially galling when, as U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said, the school and its students are the victims.
Michael Bartley pleaded guilty to conspiracy while serving as chief of police at the school. Investigators say he used his position to press university officials to purchase Sportsman’s Retreat, owned by a Florida businessman. Mr. Bartley allegedly was to receive $30,000 and an all-terrain vehicle in return.
Board member Jonathan Pinson, who stepped down as its chair last February, has pleaded not guilty to similar charges. He was allegedly to receive a Porsche Cayenne worth more than $100,000 for his influence on behalf of the purchase.
Meanwhile, the university faced a $6 million shortfall this year. Some of its buildings are run down.
And one of its most talked-about projects is still not complete. Plans for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center have been stalled for years because of money problems, damning audits and lost federal support.
Following the indictments, board chairman Walter Tobin said new procedures will ensure against similar crimes.
But S.C. State needs more than that. First, it needs a permanent president — a person who comes with necessary experience and a proven track record.
Dr. George Cooper stepped down as president last year after firing eight top staff members. An interim head is at a disadvantage in initiating programs and strategies to revive the school’s standing.
S.C. State also needs a board with a different perspective. In recent years, the board has been nearly dysfunctional — quibbling over who the chairman is, firing and then rehiring the president weeks later, and failing to move the school out of trouble.
It needs a board that is smart, honest, hard-working and forward-thinking. It needs members who see their role as serving the school, not deriving benefits or prestige that might come with the position.
And S.C. State needs to recommit itself to academic excellence.
If it is to reverse the declining enrollment trend, it needs to compete with the state’s other colleges.
If it is to win back the respect of the state, it needs to demonstrate that it is ready to pull the plug on practices that have been unsuccessful and embrace promising new ones. It should look to the state’s Commission on Higher Education for assistance.
A healthy South Carolina State University is a benefit to the state, its citizens and its economy.
The school should waste no time as it takes on the difficult challenges ahead.