In February of 2013, while testifying before the Legislative Screening Committee of the General Assembly, I articulated a statement that I find myself repeating more and more frequently.
That statement was: "I shudder to think what the state of South Carolina would be without the existence and contributions of South Carolina State University."
When one considers the cadre of civic and business leaders, teachers and scholars that we have produced, the social and political and economic value of our product is of inestimable value to this State and Nation. Our ROTC program alone has produced over 2,000 military officers, at least 18 of whom have risen to attain the rank of general and hold significant command positions in service to the United States of America.
More than $150 million that annually supports our local and regional economy is due to the existence of South Carolina State University.
S.C. State has graduated approximately 30,000 alumni, more than 50 percent of whom continue to reside in the state and serve as contributing responsible politically active citizens.
This is no small contribution coming from an institution that perhaps has never had the opportunity to play on a level playing field. We have a very storied and important legacy; however, we also currently continue to make an important and significant contribution to all of the people of this state.
When making that statement in February 2013, I was not only evaluating the richness of our legacy or the value of our current contribution to this state, region and nation. I was also thinking about the future.
What role is the state of South Carolina willing to play in the continuing development of America as a global leader? How would South Carolina State University be supported in its efforts to become an increasingly important contributor to those plans for development? As a former economic developer, I have always felt that it was impossible to develop "the state" while leaving the people behind.
While before the Screening Committee, my optimism held fast. I was appreciably, although not fully, aware of some of the unfortunate negatives which have tarnished the image of the university and in the short term diminished its attractiveness. I was then and I continue to be optimistic regarding the future growth, development and strengthened existence of the state's only publicly supported Historically Black College/University.
I was also totally convinced that the members of the General Assembly who were conducting the screening procedures were equally committed to the resurrection of S.C. State. They were aware of the fiscal problems as well as the leadership issues impacting the university.
The screening panel clearly communicated its desire to improve the capacity for S.C. State to strengthen its presence in the region.
On July 1, 2013, five new trustees were elected to serve on the S.C. State Board. On Oct. 14, 2013, I was elected chairman of the Board of Trustees.
The history and wisdom of the veterans, who were presently seated, combined with the vision and energy of those of us who were newly elected has served to create a new climate in the board room. There is now a new sense of hope at the university.
On Feb. 5, an additional new trustee was elected. Presently six of the 13 members of the board are "new."
The same may be said for the South Carolina State University Board of Trustees in general. We are a new Board of Trustees with a renewed sense of focus to move the institution forward.
It is important for the public to understand the following:
As we plan to go forward, the Board of Trustees at South Carolina State University is prepared and willing to be held accountable for policies, decisions, and actions taken on our watch.
We simply request the opportunity, time and resources that are necessary to get the job done for the people of our state. Anything less is not what we signed on to accomplish. Anything less will not strengthen the university or further its mission.
With respect to the future development of South Carolina State University, this board and the leadership of this university have a vision and plans for going forward.
We are willing to discuss these strategies and accountability measures that will assure the wise use of resources appropriated to that end.
We look forward to the opportunity to join a process of meaningful discussions on the issue of how South Carolina State University will serve the people of our state and region - presently and in the future.
We have overcome enough in the past to be encouraged by the range of current possibilities.
Dr. William Small Jr. is chairman of the South Carolina State University Board of Trustees.