State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter knows that her proposal to bring more state-level control of South Carolina’s only public historically black university will be controversial, even incendiary in some circles.
But the Orangeburg Democrat thinks the beleaguered South Carolina State University has a chance to turn things around, which represents an opportunity that might not come again any time soon.
Cobb-Hunter has proposed an amendment to a bill about restructuring the university’s Board of Trustees, which originally was proposed by Rep. Jerry Govan, another Orangeburg Democrat.
Cobb-Hunter’s amendment, which could be considered by the Legislature as early as today, would replace the university’s board with an interim, seven-member board. Three members would be selected by the House speaker; three by the Senate president pro tem; and one by the governor.
While the Legislature now elects most members of the school’s board, black leaders and alumni have had a lot of influence over who is elected, Cobb-Hunter said. Her amendment would reduce that influence and bring in an experienced, qualified interim board that could turn around the school’s fundamental problems before a permanent board is elected, she said.
“I’m willing to take the heat and the hate,” Cobb-Hunter said. “I’m a big girl. This isn’t my first rodeo.”
The university has faced severe problems in recent months, including the firing of eight high-level employees; the resignation of the president and chairman of the Board of Trustees; and an unspecified criminal investigation.
Cobb-Hunter attributes many of those problems to the school’s governing board, which she said has “run amok and impacted the day-to-day operations of the university.”
Govan said he doesn’t support the amendment, and questioned Cobb-Hunter’s motivation for filing it. Legislators had plenty of time to review the bill before it was filed, he said.
Cobb-Hunter’s amendment could possibly jeopardize the school’s accreditation, he said.
“And it further complicates things when it comes to forming a consensus between the House and Senate,” Govan said.
Govan’s bill would remove the entire board, and new trustees would be elected by the General Assembly by June 30.
Cobb-Hunter said there simply isn’t time between now and the end of the legislative session to elect new board members. That’s one of the reasons she proposed her amendment.
In other matters at S.C. State, acting President Rita Teal has reached out to the state’s Budget and Control Board for help with finance, budget, procurement technology and human resources. She also sent a letter to the state’s Commission on Higher Education asking for assistance in conducting an audit of enrollment and student retention. The university has experienced a drop in enrollment in recent years.
Teal could not be reached for comment Monday.
Cobb-Hunter said she’s not a graduate of S.C. State, but she supports historically black colleges. S.C. State is important, not just to alumni but to the entire state, she said.
“It’s way past time, but change has to happen.”