A legislative subcommittee this week shot down a proposal to reorganize South Carolina State University's Board of Trustees.
Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, was the lead sponsor of a bill to shake up the board after the body chose last year not to renew former President Andrew Hugine's contract.
Hugine's ousting stirred controversy on the Orangeburg campus in December. Board members claimed Hugine didn't possess the management skills necessary to take the school to the next level. But some alumni, including U.S. Rep Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and several state legislators, were angered by the move, claiming Hugine had improved the school.
Now, 12 of the university's 13 board members are appointed by the state General Assembly and one member is appointed by the governor. Under Govan's plan, the school's board would have been replaced on July 1 by six members appointed by the General Assembly, six by the South Carolina State University National Alumni Association and one by the governor.
Govan, a staunch supporter of Hugine, said Thursday that some people have accused him of filing the bill in retaliation. But Govan said he simply wanted the school's alumni, the people he thinks are most dedicated to the school, to have a stronger voice.
And, he said, the board's ousting of Hugine highlighted some systemic problems in the board's leadership that reorganization might have fixed. The House Education and Public Works subcommittee on higher education Tuesday adjourned the bill until January 2009, essentially killing it, said state Rep. B.R. Skelton, R-Six Mile, the subcommittee chairman.
"I was very disappointed in the callous way it was handled" by the subcommittee, Govan said. The group refused to consider an amended bill that would have left all current board members in place but replaced three at-large members with members selected by the alumni association when those terms are up.
"Clearly, I think politics were afoot," Govan said.
Skelton said he thought that Govan's proposal "could create instability at the university." It would have eliminated needed institutional knowledge on the board at a time the school was searching for a new president, he said.
Skelton reviewed more than 75 e-mails, pro and con, about reorganization, he said.
He was particularly swayed by remarks by Evelyn Fields, president of the school's Faculty Senate, and Jeremy Rogers, president of the school's Student Government Association, who both spoke out against restructuring the board, Skelton said.
"I reached the conclusion that this was not in the best interest of the faculty, staff, university or alumni," he said.
S.C. State board Chairman Maurice Washington said, "We are delighted" with the subcommittee's decision. "It was a badly flawed bill," he said.
Washington said in the hunt for a new president, the search committee has received more than 50 applications, including some from current and former college presidents, provosts and deans. The search committee will meet Monday to narrow the pool to 10, he said.
State Sen. John Matthews, D-Bowman, has filed a Senate bill similar to Govan's amended bill. Matthews said he's not yet sure when his bill will be taken up in the Senate.