S.C. State’s new opportunity

This is a good time for the South Carolina State University (its campus pictured above) to begin a new chapter of fiscal discipline, educational excellence and trustworthy leadership.

Grace Beahm

South Carolina State University will have a new president in June. And it will have five new board members shortly after President-elect Thomas Elzey starts work.

This is a good time for the state’s only historically black public college to begin a new chapter of fiscal discipline, educational excellence and trustworthy leadership.

The state Legislature, which ousted all four incumbents who were seeking re-election, appears to be sending a pointed message to the struggling school. It’s time for changes and solutions.

Unfortunately, some strong board members lost their positions in the sweep. One of them, Charleston’s Maurice Washington, accepted defeat gracefully and said the election was “secondary to the importance of selecting a good, solid president.”

But others suspect politics drove the lawmakers to make the choices they did and fear that Mr. Elzey, the first black person to be a top executive at The Citadel, might be in for some stormy times. He was chosen in a controversial election by the narrowest of margins.

Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, has been outspoken in his criticism of the school’s recent failures. He is apprehensive that the election of new board members could jeopardize a course correction, signaled by bringing Mr. Elzey on board.

If newly elected board members fall into opposing camps, as has the present board, some fear Mr. Elzey’s job could actually be in jeopardy — even though he’s just been hired.

That would be an embarrassment to the school and a major impediment to the school’s potential recovery. The board not only needs to give Mr. Elzey a chance to perform his job, it needs to give him the support that will enable him to do it well.

The college needs stability and capable leadership if it is to stop the dramatic decline in enrollment, clean up the management mess that has been documented and regain the trust of taxpayers who are fed up with its lack of accountability, absence of transparency and abundance of bickering.

The previous college president quit, and eight top administrators were fired.

It hasn’t been long since a former board chairman was charged with using his influence in exchange for a Porsche. A criminal inquiry is continuing at the school.

A state-ordered audit of the school found administrative mismanagement, and it is under federal investigation.

The planned James E. Clyburn Transportation Center is not much further along than it was two decades ago and is now considered a high risk candidate for federal grants.

Students are concerned that their degrees will be devalued if the school continues on its downward path.

It will take a strong, right-minded board, in concert with a strong, capable president, to undo the damage to the university’s credibility.

The students and their parents, faculty and alumni all deserve responsible policy-making and able management. S.C. State can’t withstand many more disasters of its own making.

The new board members and the new president need to make a new start for the beleaguered university.