ORANGEBURG — South Carolina State University's interim president says the school needs some time to heal from the campus conflict that erupted when the board ousted Andrew Hugine earlier this month.

But Leonard McIntyre, who was dean of the school's College of Education, Humanities and Social Sciences when he took the reins at the university last week, said he'll make sure the university keeps up the momentum on achieving its goals and serving students until a new president is hired.

"There's so much work to do here that we can't afford to be distracted," McIntyre said. "We have to maintain our focus."

The university is moving forward with the search for a new president despite sharp criticism from some board members, state legislators and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., who supported the former president.

State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, a staunch supporter of Hugine, said the matter is not over. He has threatened to conduct a financial audit of the board if its members refuse to reinstate Hugine.

Board Chairman Maurice Washington said last week that the board decided not to renew Hugine's contract, which will expire Jan. 4, based on a negative performance evaluation and poor results on an academic audit of the university.

The Post and Courier has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the performance evaluation. Washington has said he will release the evaluation after it clears a state commission.

Among the audit's findings were that the school is enrolling more freshmen but many aren't prepared for college; it doesn't retain freshmen very well; and many of its students transfer to two-year colleges.

In a teleconference Wednesday, the board selected Academic Search Inc. as the firm it hopes to hire to conduct a national search for a new president.

Academic Search, based in Washington, D.C., has been offering executive search services to higher education and related organizations for more than 30 years.

Washington said that the school's finance officers hope to work out a deal with the firm and have a signed contract by the end of the year. When the deal is complete, he said, he would release all the details.

Washington said he's unsure how much a national search will cost but "we will not let cost compromise the quality of the process," he said.

The board also decided on the makeup of a committee that will aid in the search, and will select its members as soon as possible.

McIntyre said he thinks the search will take about six months but added that he is willing to serve as interim president for as long as necessary.

He's been a dean at the university since 2005. He plans soon to arrange focus groups and forums for faculty and staff members who have concerns about Hugine's departure. "People want to be heard," he said.

Before coming to the university, McIntyre was the deputy superintendent of the state's Department of Education. In that position, he took over temporarily as superintendent for the Allendale County School District.

The district had such deep-seated problems that the state took control of it.

McIntyre said he's not comparing the conditions at S.C. State to those in Allendale. But, he said, the experience demonstrates that he can lead during a critical time.

In his role as interim president, he said, he'll focus on the school's daily operation, managing resources efficiently, and providing leadership to the entire university community.

He also said he plans to "prepare the university to receive a new president so we can present the best South Carolina State University to him or her."