S.C. State groups support vote to let president go, faculty backs decision

George Cooper

South Carolina State University's board of trustees did the right thing when it voted last week not to renew President George Cooper's contract, according to two university faculty groups.

A position statement from the school's Faculty Senate and its chapter of the American Association of University Professors said Cooper's administration failed to:

--Support the faculty's right of academic freedom and shared governance.

--Develop a comprehensive financial plan to ensure the school's solvency.

--Develop a comprehensive recruitment plan to address declining enrollment.

--Comply with the stated processes and qualifications outlined in the Faculty Handbook when appointing administrative faculty members to or removing them from key positions.

Evelyn Fields, chairwoman of the Faculty Senate, said the faculty groups released the statement to present factual information from people involved in the daily activities of the university.

People who are not knowledgeable about the school's day-to-day operations have been making public statements, which are not based on facts, she said.

For instance, she said, S.C. State University is the only public university in the state that didn't bring in enough students to meet its 2009-10 enrollment goals. But Fields said she's seen news reports where people who were defending Cooper stated that many of the state's public universities failed to meet their enrollment goals.

Fields said the majority of faculty members agree with the position statement but acknowledged that there are some individual dissenters.

Dr. Willie Legette, president of the S.C. State University American Association of University Professors, said faculty members have dealt with severe problems with Cooper's administration for a year and a half.

Cooper was on the job for only about two years when the board voted 7-4 last week not to renew his contract when it expires June 30, effectively firing him.

Legette said he's been a political science professor at the university for more than 20 years and "this is the worst I've seen."

He understands concerns some have raised about whether Cooper was given enough time to prove himself and whether firing him so soon brings instability to the university. "But the university can't take another year of this," he said.

The faculty groups also made clear in their statement what they are hoping for in a new interim and permanent president. They have urged the board to consider the following recommendations:

--Consider only candidates that have a documented record of solid leadership at the senior level in higher education and that have a demonstrated record of support for principles of shared governance and academic freedom.

--Establish an open and transparent process for appointing the next permanent president.

--Ensure faculty participation in the process of hiring the next permanent president and fully disclose why the candidate was selected.

--Consider only candidates for the permanent president who have a solid record in fundraising

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or dknich@postandcourier.com.