Angry S.C. State trustees say they’re being made scapegoat

The S.C. State Board of Trustees met Feb. 12 for committee meetings and an emergency board meeting to address the university’s current crisis.

ORANGEBURG — South Carolina State University trustees complained Thursday about being made the scapegoats for the school’s financial woes, which they blamed on the Legislature’s funding cuts and negative media coverage.

The trustees and S.C. State President Thomas Elzey have come under attack in recent weeks by lawmakers angered by repeated requests for loans and bailouts to keep the state’s only public historically black university afloat. The House and Senate are considering bills that would oust the trustees and Elzey, whom the trustees placed on administrative leave on Monday.

After meeting behind closed doors for most of the day, the trustees announced that Elzey would remain on administrative leave until at least Wednesday, when the board plans to release a report on his status. Elzey’s attorney, Nancy Bloodgood, asked the board to delay taking any action it was considering regarding her client so that she could review his contract, trustees said in a statement.

Bloodgood was not at the trustees meeting and could not be reached for comment. The Charleston attorney represented former Charleston County Schools Superintendent Nancy McGinley, who resigned under pressure last year and received more than $375,000 plus benefits in a settlement with the district.

Elzey on Wednesday provided The Times and Democrat in Orangeburg with his planned cutbacks to deal with declining enrollment, including axing 22 faculty positions, eliminating and combining several sports programs and closing the Felton Laboratory School and I.P. Stanback Museum.

Felton, located on the S.C. State campus, is an elementary and middle school with about 125 students that is operated in partnership with the university. It is called a laboratory school because university faculty can perform research projects there and education majors are involved in its operations.

Trustee Tony Grant called Elzey’s proposed cuts totaling $3.2 million “woefully lacking.”

Despite Grant’s dismissal, the trustees on Thursday approved Elzey’s cost-cutting proposals, with Grant saying there would be more in the future.

Trustees also discussed the cash-strapped school’s accreditation status with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), which has placed S.C. State on probation and is asking for more information on its finances.

“I cannot lie,” Acting S.C. State President W. Franklin Evans told trustees. “We still have financial issues. What would be ideal is for the state to provide us with the money to make us whole.”

Angry board members countered that lawmakers are making the board “scapegoats.”

Trustee John Corbitt said he doesn’t understand why lawmakers in Columbia seemed to be surprised by the school’s being heavily in debt and unable to meet its expenses when legislators have slashed the school’s budget in recent years.

“That’s the only problem we have, it’s more money,” Corbitt said. “We can fix it right now, if we had some money. I hope that this board is not being made scapegoats.”

Board Chairman William Small, who participated in the meeting by phone, echoed Corbitt’s frustration, adding that there’s “scapegoating that is being put on this board.”

The House is considering firing the board and replacing them with members of the State Fiscal Accountability Authority, who would then fire Elzey. The Senate bill would also remove the trustees and appoint a replacement board.

Small and Grant said they were willing to step aside for the benefit of S.C. State’s future.

“We want to save South Carolina State University, and as a trustee I don’t want to stand in the way,” said Grant, adding that he believes “the state” has the school’s best interest at heart.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.