CityWatch: On USC Board Membership - Is This 2019 or 1919?

Kevin Fisher in 2018

Kevin Fisher

“As [outgoing University of South Carolina president Harris] Pastides, university officials and student groups have emphasized the importance of racial and social diversity, the finalists for president — three white men and an African American man — were a letdown to some.” — The State, April 17

That got me thinking about the USC Board of Trustees and something the great New York Yankees catcher and blue collar philosopher Yogi Berra famously said: “You could look it up.”

So I did. And a few minutes later, I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.

What specifically did I look up? The composition of the USC board of trustees.

Here it is, as shown on their website: 18 white males; one white female; one African-American female.

In addition to the legislatively appointed members, Gov. Henry McMaster and State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman are ex-officio members based on the offices they hold. So if you want to count them, it’s 19 white males, two white females and one African-American female.

Citing those stark numbers is not meant to cast any aspersions of any type on anyone serving on the board of trustees of the state’s flagship university.

Further, by way of full disclosure, my firm has done work with two of the current USC board members over the years, producing various TV spots and other advertising for Carolinas Hospital System in Florence which featured Dr. Edward Floyd and Dr. Dorn Smith during the time they were leading surgeons there.

I like and respect both men, and would point out that neither they nor any other USC board member appointed themselves to the position. That is the responsibility of the Legislature.

Accordingly, it is the Legislature that I would ask this about the makeup of the USC board: Are you kidding?

And perhaps this would be a good follow-up question: Do you realize this is 2019, not 1919?

Back here on present day earth, the idea that the board of trustees of this state’s (or any state’s) major public university is 95 percent white and 86 percent male is almost literally unbelievable.

And everyone, no matter what race, sex or political party, knows that is neither right nor acceptable.

Further, while the overwhelmingly white, male board of trustees did at least name an African-American finalist, they were unable to do even that with a female candidate. Really?

The question going forward is what to do about the makeup of the board. Of course, if the Legislature takes its usual approach to things, the answer will be little or nothing.

But while diversity demands can sometimes go too far, when it comes to diversity on the USC board, the demands obviously haven’t gone far enough. Why is that?

More specifically, why aren’t USC students, professors and alumni and regular citizens doing something about this? Indeed, it is hard to imagine diversity being less of a reality than it is on the USC board.

Maybe, like me, they didn’t know about it. But they do now.

Again, it’s not that all those white male members of the USC board are bad or biased people, as I’m sure they’re not. The same goes for the legislators who appointed them, who no doubt felt they were making great picks, and probably were.

But at some point you have to wake up and look at the situation as it exists, no matter how it came to be.

It’s like something else Yogi Berra famously said: “You can observe a lot just by watching.” And we should all be watching this going forward.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics. 

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