In a letter on this page, Rita Jackson Teal, acting president of South Carolina State University, urges a cooperative effort on behalf of the beleaguered university. We hope that S.C. State gets the support it needs.
The university could use some good news, and some good press.
But the problem with S.C. State is not with “excessive media coverage,” cited by Dr. Teal. And the problems at the university extend far beyond the last two months.
The media — primarily The Post and Courier — have played a vital role in bringing a higher level of accountability to the school.
This newspaper was stonewalled by the previous administration, and had to repeatedly force the issue of public access, sometimes using the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
In past years, university officials have attempted to keep information about the James E. Clyburn Transportation Center under wraps. The Post and Courier obtained records detailing serious problems with the project and its grant management through the FOIA.
And legislators helped force the issue by requesting that the Legislative Audit Council look into the matter. The LAC 2011 report detailed the extent of the project’s disarray, despite having received millions in federal funding.
More recently, the university tried to keep the Board of Trustees’ job rating of then-university president George Cooper from public scrutiny. The Post and Courier’s persisted, however, and Dr. Cooper’s D-plus rating eventually was made public. Still, there’s not been a full accounting of his $268,000 severance package.
Meanwhile, the university has yet to provide full information on the recent firing of eight high-level officials, although the Board of Trustees has apologized for “alleged criminal misconduct, unethical conduct and mismanagement” at the college. A criminal investigation is under way on unspecified charges.
In her letter today, Dr. Teal cites many assets of the university, and emphasizes its commitment to academic excellence and fiscal accountability. There is no question that S.C. State is an asset to Orangeburg and to the state.
But if S.C. State is to receive the support it needs to flourish, it needs to re-evaluate its relationship with the public. That includes students, faculty and the state’s taxpayers who support the school with their dollars. Such a commitment is essential to public accountability. It should be central to the decision-making processes of the Board of Trustees and the administration.