Giving S.C. State a fair chance

(File)

Amid the swirl of reckless ideas in the Legislature about what to do regarding South Carolina State University’s financial ills, the Senate has introduced an element of needed restraint.

It voted to give the Orangeburg college the permission it requested: to impose a mandatory furlough of up to 20 working days for its employees.

The Senate’s vote was unanimous Thursday, indicating that members are not ready to pull the plug on the troubled school as some members of the House seem to be advocating.

Indeed, the Senate’s action suggests a degree of confidence in the school’s leadership and its plan to right the listing financial ship.

Meanwhile, the S.C. State Board of Trustees released a reasonable statement Thursday pledging to work closely with the General Assembly in its effort to provide “affordable and accessible quality programs” to students.

Further, board Chairman Dr. William Small Jr. vowed to “study and utilize” a state-mandated audit that members received only Thursday.

S.C. State President Thomas Elzey has said all along that he would welcome any guidance the audit can produce.

The school’s leadership deserves some time to study the audit’s recommendations, and enact needed improvements, if possible.

The General Assembly should also be informed by the audit before making more rash moves.

The House of Representatives should follow the Senate’s lead and use some restraint of its own. Specifically, it should reconsider imprudent actions by two of its subcommittees earlier this week. Both would shut down S.C. State for at least three semesters and then, presumably, reopen it.

But in doing that, the school would lose its faculty and staff, its students and its accreditation. As a result, students who need financial aid would lose their access to federal funds.

S.C. State would not be able to reapply for accreditation until the school were fully operational again, and then it would take about 18 months for the application to be analyzed and approved — or disapproved.

So far, the House is continuing on its precipitous course. On Thursday, Reps. Kenny Bingham, R-Cayce, and Harold Mitchell, D-Spartanburg, introduced a resolution that would keep the school open — but would remove the current board and instruct the state Budget and Control Board to replace the school’s president with an interim president.

Ironically, the majority of the university’s board of trustees are new members, elected by the General Assembly to replace some who were seated when many of the college’s troubles were discovered.

Those problems included diminishing enrollment, increasing debt and criminal behavior on the part of some members of the board and staff.

President Elzey, who has been in office just over a year and a half, inherited most of the financial problems that he, his board and his staff are trying to address without further jeopardizing the accreditation of the state’s only public college that is historically black. He was previously executive vice president for finance and administration at The Citadel, and he came well recommended for a difficult job.

Nevertheless, the Legislative Black Caucus this week voted that it had no confidence in Mr. Elzey’s leadership.

The General Assembly is right to be seriously concerned about South Carolina State. But at this point, the school needs all the help it can get.

And the last thing the college needs is for legislators to jeopardize the opportunity to bring the school back into balance.