S.C. State board converges for retreat

South Carolina State University's Board of Trustees meets for its annual retreat in Charleston today amid questions about how millions of dollars for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center have been spent and turmoil over the ousting of the school's president.

The gathering of the governing body of the state's only public historically black university runs through Wednesday morning at Charleston Place. Board members arrived Sunday evening for a dinner and reception. Meetings begin at 9 a.m. today.

Board member Maurice Washington has said he will ask trustees to approve an external audit of the school's transportation center during the retreat. Washington was responding to a June 14 report in The Post and Courier, which found that 12 years after the center was launched, the site for a new building sits vacant, no transportation research is currently under way and the program lost its designation as a federal transportation center.

More than $50 million has flowed to the center since 1998, about half for transportation programs and half for the first phase of a new transportation complex to be named in honor of Clyburn, the U.S. House majority whip and a graduate of S.C. State.

While the university has most of the $26.3 million for the first phase of the new building on hand, a school finance official can't account for millions of federal dollars for transportation-related programs.

The university put in place a new financial recording system a few years ago, and it's difficult to access records from the old system, said Joseph Pearman, assistant vice president for business and finance.

Despite the setbacks, university officials have said they still plan to move forward on the first phase of a new $80 million transportation complex.

The board also will vote on who will serve as interim president of the university.

On June 15, the board voted 7-4 not to renew President George Cooper's contract when it expires Wednesday.

An ad hoc committee of the board selected two candidates for the interim position: Merl F. Code, a Greenville attorney with the Ogletree Deakins law firm, and Leonard McIntyre, S.C. State's special assistant to the president for international affairs and former interim president. The recommendations will be presented to the full board during the retreat, and the board will take action on them, the release stated.

Cooper has held the university's top post for about two years.

Groups connected to the Orangeburg campus have been weighing in on Cooper's ouster. Some board members and Nathaniel Howard, president of the university's National Alumni Association have said they oppose the board's decision. But a majority of the board voted to terminate Cooper, and two campus faculty groups have publicly supported the board's decision.

The Post and Courier has filed a Freedom of Information request for a copy of Cooper's evaluation, but has not yet received the document.