Legislature proposes S.C. State oversight commission

South Carolina State University in Orangeburg

COLUMBIA - The S.C. Senate voted Thursday to form an advisory committee that would have the power to oversee the state's only public historically black college, which faces severe budget woes and issues with its accreditation.

Pushed by Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, the S.C. State Blue Ribbon Advisory Committee would be composed of some of the state's most well-known leaders on higher education issues. The committee would help the school make a plan to address budget issues and find solutions to recruit and retain students. Plans for disbursement of monies would be overseen both by legislators and finally by the Budget and Control Board, an oversight panel comprised of Gov. Nikki Haley, Leatherman and other key officials.

Budget plans would also be submitted to the university's Board of Trustees, which would help guide decisions on future plans and budget issues.

"They've got to get more students," Leatherman said on the Senate floor. "This group, they'll be trying to figure out what's good for that institution, what's good for this state."

The committee will be composed of James F. Barker, president of Clemson University; Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina; Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University; Alex Sanders, former College of Charleston president and judge; and Ernest A. Finney, a former Supreme Court justice and president of S.C. State.

On April 30, the state authorized an emergency loan of $6 million to the school. S.C. State leaders asked the state for about $14 million to pay its immediate bills but said the emergency loan would help it stay afloat.

Those funds were allowed by the state's Budget and Control Board, of which Leatherman is a member. He was the sole vote against providing those funds, saying that they amounted to a "Band-Aid" for a school that needs significantly more help.

Leatherman said the state would not allow the school to go under. "They said very clearly they didn't get here overnight they (won't) get out of this overnight," Leatherman said.

Elizabeth Mosely-Hawkins, spokeswoman for S.C. State, said the university's president, Thomas Elzey, was aware of Leatherman's plan to create a committee after he discussed it at the Budget and Control Board meeting last week. Elzey "has always welcomed this special panel," Mosely-Hawkins said.

The president acknowledged his support for the panel in a statement issued May 1.

"We welcome the counsel and expertise of a special panel comprised of some of this state's most prominent and successful leaders in higher education who have pledged their support in arriving at a plan for long-term viability," Elzey said in the statement.

Leatherman said that advisory committee could meet for years and he wants them to ensure that S.C. State has a viable plan going forward. The school has acknowledged that it has been mismanaged and made poor decisions that has led to its current budget problems.

"I won't ever agree to close that university," Leatherman said.

Staff writer Amanda Kerr contributed to this report.

Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.