Who’s in charge at S.C. State?

Legislators who aren’t convinced that South Carolina State University needs their attention might ponder the latest dilemma facing the school’s Board of Trustees: Three members now claim to be the rightful board chair.

John Corbitt was acting chairman of the board on Sept. 27 when members voted to elect a chairman.

In a three-way race, Dr. Walt L. Tobin received five votes, Patricia Lott received four and Mr. Corbitt got two votes. Dr. Tobin assumed the seat.

But Ms. Lott and five other trustees contended later that the election was invalid, saying a majority of the seated board members were required to elect a new chairman. They called a meeting for Oct. 17 and elected Ms. Lott by a vote of 6-0.

Dr. Tobin and his supporters don’t buy it. For one thing, they say the time to challenge his election was during the Sept. 27 meeting. He was publicly recognized as the new chairman and given the board’s gavel.

For another, members were not notified of another meeting five days beforehand as is the rule. Believing the meeting improper, several didn’t attend. Ms. Lott’s answer? The rule was waived when a quorum of trustees attended the meeting.

So now, Dr. Tobin is confident he is the legitimate chairman, and Ms. Lott also claims the spot. Neither is backing down.

And Thursday, Mr. Corbitt asserted that he is still the acting chairman because neither election was valid. He has called the board to meet via teleconference on Tuesday and elect a chairman.

During the last legislative session, Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, tried in vain to get the Legislature’s support for a plan to dissolve the present board and appoint a temporary board to clean up the multiple financial, management and scholastic problems that the school has been experiencing, and that the board has been unable or unwilling to fix.

The controversy regarding the chairmanship should eliminate any doubts about the board being dysfunctional.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, said he would like to see another attempt by the Legislature in the upcoming session. Every semester the school’s problems go unaddressed is a semester students, faculty, parents and taxpayers are being shortchanged.

Maurice Washington, an S.C. State trustee from Charleston, believes that Dr. Tobin is chairman. In comments to the Orangeburg Times and Democrat, Mr. Washington noted that both Tobin and Lott are graduates of S.C. State who love the university and donate money and time to it. He expressed hope that the two can come to an agreement in the best interest of S.C. State.

But a board of trustees that cannot even agree upon who is chairman is not likely to able to take on the complex problems of S.C. State, including decreasing enrollment, disorganization and mismanagement, serious money troubles and a severely tarnished image.

As a historically black state college, S.C. State has been an important player in South Carolina. If it is to return to a position of respect, its troubles must be addressed. But expecting the same board that has presided over the messy situation to make necessary changes isn’t rational. The latest muddle is more evidence of the board’s fundamental problems.

Waiting for the Legislature to take charge means waiting more than two months when the session begins. Maybe the Commission on Higher Education can help sort matters out beforehand.

Clearly, S.C. State needs more than a parliamentarian to bring order to its board.