There is some sweet irony about two state representatives from Orangeburg, both Democrats, going toe-to-toe over a bill to restructure South Carolina State University’s Board of Trustees. Both lawmakers recognize that a spate of problems at the state’s only historically black public university could be an opportunity as well as an embarrassment.
For years, S.C. State officials have complained that they get little attention from the Legislature. That is changing, even if for unfortunate reasons. The university has fared poorly on several audits. Eight high-level employees were recently fired.
The president resigned, as did the board chairman. On Monday, two more board members resigned, saying they no longer thought the board could reform itself or govern effectively. And the university is involved in an unspecified criminal investigation.
The school has an interim president. But many people lack confidence in board members who were on the job when much of the present mess occurred. Rep. Jerry Govan’s bill would dismiss all board members. Their slots would be filled by the Legislature before June 30.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter’s amendment would replace the board with a seven-member interim board, three chosen by the House speaker, three by the Senate president pro tem and one by the governor. She envisions this temporary board addressing S.C. State’s fundamental problems and then a permanent board being elected by the Legislature.
Ms. Cobb-Hunter says board members have been selected under pressure from black leaders and influential alumni. She contends that isn’t healthy.
Mr. Govan likes his plan better and fears that Ms. Cobb-Hunter’s amendment could jeopardize the school’s accreditation.
State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, has also called for the board to be replaced.
And while three or four people don’t amount to a groundswell, a bill to restructure the board of trustees would require the Legislature to give serious thought to the Orangeburg college and its needs.
The Legislature should put aside politics and stand down those whose agenda is anything other than to identify the school’s shortcomings — all of them — and to fix them. Taxpayers deserve assurance that their money is being used efficiently and wisely. S.C. State students deserve an opportunity to get a good education at a credible university. And the faculty should have confidence that the school’s administration will do its job well so that they can do theirs.
It is encouraging that interim president Rita Teal has requested the state’s help in several areas including finance, budget, procurement, human resources and auditing enrollment. There is no shame in asking for help.
The shame would be on the part of the Legislature if it fails to use this opportunity to assess the school’s needs and put in place a board that can resolve them.
What people are saying about S.C. State isn’t all good. The focus, by necessity, is on cleaning things up.
But at least powerful people who can make a difference are talking about what the school needs.