Scientist: Queries led to my firing Transportation center woes continue

Research scientist Dr. Kenneth Lewis at the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center. (Grace Beahm/

The departure of Dr. Kenneth Lewis this month may have extinguished a spark of hope for the troubled James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center.

But John Rosenthall, vice president of research and economic development, said he has plans to move biofuel research already under way on campus to the transportation center building, and to continue to apply for grants to bring in new research.

Lewis was rehired late last year in part to rev up research at the stalled transportation center by applying for and landing grants. No research was under way at the time at the struggling transportation center at South Carolina State University in Orangeburg. But Lewis said he was terminated without an explanation before a grant application that he had completed had gone out. It could have launched five veins of research at the transportation center, he said.

Rosenthall said he can’t comment on why Lewis was terminated because it’s a personnel issue. And he and others at the university continue to write grants for transportation research projects. “I’m not aware of any grant applications that I shut down,” Rosenthall said.

Walter Tobin, chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees, said he’s aware that Lewis has been terminated, but he has not been notified officially about it by school administrators. Lewis, who previously worked at the university but left in 2011, has a track record for bringing in grants and programs, Tobin said. “He distinguished himself over the years.”

Tobin also said he doesn’t know the next steps for the transportation center. “There’s nothing going on at the transportation center now, as far as I know,” he said.

Hope Derrick, spokeswoman for U.S. House minority leader Jim Clyburn, said the congressman has no comment because it’s an internal matter for the university. Clyburn is an S.C. State graduate and brought in most of the money for the center that bears his name.

But the transportation center’s problems have been ongoing since a June 2010 Post and Courier report revealed that after more than a decade in the works, no transportation research was under way and the center had lost its federal designation. University leaders also weren’t able to explain how much of $50 million that flowed to the center was spent. About half of the money was for a building complex, and much of it still was available. The other half was for transportation programs.

Now, just one building of the planned complex has been completed, which mainly consists of three large bays into which researchers could drive huge vehicles. But no large vehicle research is under way. University leaders have no plan to raise the more than $80 million it would take to complete the center.

Reach Diane Knich at 937-5491 or on Twitter @dianeknich.