CHARLESTON — As state lawmakers ponder firing the South Carolina State University trustees, South Carolina’s only black congressman and a federal lawsuit contend the state can be blamed in part for the school’s financial woes.
Present and former university students are suing the state and the Commission on Higher Education saying duplicating South Carolina State’s programs at other universities hurts enrollment, and the bottom line, at the historically black school.
And U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., says lawmakers haven’t given the school money to match federal grants and funds available for land grant institutions. But he says Clemson, the state’s other land-grant school, always gets such money.
The state and its Commission on Higher Education have until April 16 to respond to the lawsuit alleging the state has “a constitutional duty to protect the plaintiffs from the policies and conditions indicative of the former dual system of segregation in higher education.”
It said separate programs date to the time when separate but equal was the law of the land. South Carolina State is the only historically black university among the state’s 33 public colleges and technical schools.
The state Budget and Control Board was told last month the university’s escalating debt could reach almost $24 million this year. A bill in the General Assembly calls for replacing the existing university board because of the financial problems.
The lawsuit filed in February says the defendants “knew or should have known duplication of academic programs would impact the enrollment at South Carolina State” because research shows white students will not choose a black college if its programs are offered at other schools.
The suit asks a federal judge to appoint a special mediator to recommend a remedy for what it calls a segregated system of higher education.
Clyburn told reporters in Columbia on Friday the state doesn’t treat its land grant institutions equally and shortchanges South Carolina State while giving Clemson the matching money it needs for federal grants.
“That’s deliberate. How can you look at that and say it’s fair?” asked Clyburn, the state’s first black congressman since Reconstruction after the Civil War. “Why are you giving Clemson the money it needs? They didn’t just start that. They’ve been doing that for years.”
South Carolina State officials have complained for years that the state withholding funding means the school can’t attract as many students.
Some state lawmakers have said the school’s problems could finally lead to creation of a statewide Board of Regents with stronger authority to prevent duplication of programs at colleges and universities.
It is an idea that has been discussed, but which has died repeatedly, in Columbia in recent years.
Associated Press Writer Jeffery Collins contributed to this story from Columbia, S.C.