Clad in a garnet and blue jacket, an S.C. State University bulldog emblazoned on the back, former state Sen. Robert Ford voiced before an assembly of alumni on Saturday a demand for “equal funding” so that the school can remain operational.
“If you’re going to give USC $10 million from the lottery, then I want the same thing for S.C. State. We want State to get the same thing percentage wise as a USC, a Clemson or MUSC,” Ford said during a rally he described as an open dialogue for those who hoped to see the university succeed.
The event was attended by about 35 alumni and supporters at the International Longshoreman Association hall in Charleston on Morrison Drive.
It came three days after the state’s Legislative Black Caucus issued a no-confidence vote on S.C. State President Thomas Elzey’s leadership. The House Ways and Means Higher Education Subcommittee also last week advanced a plan to suspend all S.C. State operations and programs as of July 1 through the 2015-16 school year to address its mounting $70 million debt.
The school would be able to resume classes in January 2017, at the earliest, with new faculty and leadership, according to the plan.
If the university’s leaders caused problems, Ford said, it was because “there wasn’t enough food on the table” for the school to operate within a budget. Closing the state’s only public historically black college would cause more problems than it would solve, he said, as it would “devastate” Orangeburg by removing thousands of students and faculty who frequent the city’s businesses.
“The school’s not going to close,” Ford maintained. “I don’t care what the General Assembly has to say about it. That’s just not going to happen.”
Several of the rally’s attendees expressed outrage at the Black Caucus backing such a move. The lawmakers’ timing couldn’t be worse, most agreed, as the discussion fell during Black History Month and within days of the anniversary of the Orangeburg Massacre — the night three black men were killed during a civil rights protest on the school’s campus in 1968.
S.C. Rep. Wendell Gilliard, a Charleston Democrat, insisted all of the caucus’ members weren’t in agreement regarding calls to oust the university’s president and close its doors.
“I’m here to help the institution,” Gilliard said. “The focus should have never been on the president. It should have been on the students and what we need to do to keep the institution viable and moving forward.”
Former S.C. State trustee member Maurice Washington said those calling for the university to close have lost sight of the good the school has to offer.
The university over the last seven years spent $93 million helping disadvantaged youths get an education, he said.
“We open our doors to kids that other schools close their doors to. A lot of them came from the corridor of shame. That’s not mismanaging money. That’s living up to our mission. ... You (lawmakers) look into their eyes and say, ‘We’re going to shut you down and send you back home,” Washington said.
Ford concluded the rally by urging attendees and the public to call members of the Black Caucus and demand that they visit the school and vow to support it.
The NAACP intends to hold a rally noon Monday on the steps of the State House to protest the legislative proposal to remove the school’s leadership.
Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.
Editor’s note: Previous versions of this story contained an error.