In light of South Carolina State University’s serious legal and management problems, you’d expect the school’s administration to bend over backwards to dot every “i” and cross every “t”.
Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be the case, and the school’s board of trustees has another potential headache as a result. Board chairman Walter Tobin has expressed concern about the way school officials have dealt with a federal grant to the school for nuclear research.
And with good reason. The money could be in jeopardy unless S.C. State can get its act together regarding a foundation that was to serve as a conduit for the funding.
S.C. State was awarded $200,000 as part of a three-year $600,000 grant for nuclear forensic research. Instead of receiving the money directly, the university wanted it funnelled through a university foundation.
The problem is that the foundation doesn’t have federal nonprofit status, which is necessary to serve that function. So the grant money is in limbo.
The board became aware of issue only when clued in by Kenneth Lewis, a research scientist who was fired from S.C. State last month.
John Rosenthall, vice president for research and economic development, chalked the issue up to a disgruntled employee. But Dr. Lewis contends he lost his job because he discovered irregularities and began asking questions.
Board committees will meet Thursday to discuss, among other things, choosing a new university president. Members should find some time to get to the bottom of the foundation problem also. In doing so, board members should underscore the importance of being kept in the loop.
Mr. Rosenthall said he was acting on an informal directive from some trustees to see about using the foundation, for which he is listed as president. It had been established by trustees in 2004-2005 but never activated.
But some members of the board were unaware of Mr. Rosenthall’s efforts, and permission from the board wasn’t requested.
The administration should explain why, and update the board generally about the foundation, the grant, and the arrangement whereby the foundation shares space in Washington, D.C., with Environmental Justice Conference Inc., an organization that is overseen by Mr. Rosenthall.
Due to its recent record, S.C. State doesn’t have the luxury of doing things ham-handedly. A federal corruption probe has netted two former university officials. A transportation center, in planning stages for more than a decade, is still not complete, even though millions in grant money has been spent.
Enrollment has dropped precipitously at the university, and it has a $6 million deficit. And the board of the state’s only public historically black college has been so divided that Gov. Nikki Haley recently attended a meeting and urged members to get the train back on the tracks.
But the board cannot be effective if the administration acts on important issues without its knowledge or consent.
And the college simply can’t go from one crisis to another.