Cooper could be rehired at S.C. State

Despite a poor evaluation, ousted S.C. State President George Cooper was reinstated by the board of trustees.

South Carolina State University President George Cooper, who was fired last month, earned the equivalent of a D+ on his performance evaluation, but a newly configured university board meets today to consider rehiring him.

Cooper's average score was 2.56 on a scale of 1 to 5.

The evaluation required trustees to rate Cooper on 15 aspects of his performance, including whether he maintained a professional image in state government, was prepared and informed when making budget and program requests to the state Legislature, and had a positive influence on employee morale and performance, according to the document obtained by The Post and Courier from a board member.

The board voted 7-4 on June 15 not to renew Cooper's contract, which expired Wednesday. And it voted 7-5, with one abstention, Monday to hire Merl Code, a Greenville lawyer and municipal judge, as interim president.

That could change today though, because the board will hold a special meeting at which trustees will vote on whether to rehire Cooper and to expunge his firing from the board's minutes.

Anderson attorney Robert Waldrep Jr. and Patricia Lott, past president of the university's alumni association, replace Lumus Byrd and Earl Bridges as trustees today. Byrd and Bridges voted to fire Cooper.

Cooper's supporters have said they think the new board could overturn the ouster.

Donald Gist, Cooper's lawyer, said Cooper's evaluation is not valid because it was released by a board member, not the board's chairman, and because Cooper didn't sign it. "It's a public document, but not a validated document," Gist said.

He also said he doesn't think the board followed state rules when conducting Cooper's evaluation. "I question the timing, authenticity and legitimacy of the document."

Gist said he thinks the majority of board members who voted to remove Cooper did so illegally. But he said he can't explain why he thinks removing Cooper was illegal without giving away his legal strategy.

Jonathan Pinson, the board's chairman, said June 16, the day after Cooper was fired, that Cooper's official evaluation would be turned in to the state the following week, and that it would be made public after that. Pinson voted against firing Cooper.

Pinson said Wednesday that the evaluation should not have been released because it was not finalized. The board met with Cooper behind closed doors June 15, presented the evaluation to him and discussed it with him, Pinson said.

After Cooper left the room, the majority of the board moved on to discussing plans for university leadership, Pinson said.

But "we might have met with Dr. Cooper again," Pinson said. And the board might not have submitted the document to the state until September.

Bill Rogers, executive director of the South Carolina Press Association, has said the evaluation was public as soon as it was completed.

The Post and Courier filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the document June 16, but has not received it from the university.