Senate joins call for ouster of S.C. State trustees

South Carolina State University in Orangeburg.

COLUMBIA — The state Senate on Thursday joined the growing chorus calling for the ouster of South Carolina State University’s leaders.

Sen. Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence, sponsored S.475, a resolution that calls for the removal of the board of trustees of S.C. State, and the appointment of a new board that would decide whether to keep President Thomas Elzey.

Leatherman said changes are needed to protect the school and taxpayers.

“I think we’ve got to take a drastic step,” Leatherman said. “And this is a drastic step to see if we can get that institution back on the right track to educate our young people.”

Hopkins Democratic Sen. Darrell Jackson added that the Senate introduced the bill because it would be a faster way to address the leadership issues at the state’s only historically black university. The bill calls for the permanent appointment of a new board that would serve through July 2018.

“We think it has broad bipartisan support,” Jackson said. “I anticipate that it’s going to pass and would pass relatively quickly.”

A House panel advanced a similar proposal by Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, on Wednesday, but it was a temporary measure that called for the removal of the board, and instructed interim board members to fire Elzey.

Meanwhile, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office issued an opinion on Wednesday that House lawmakers have the authority to close the school and dismiss the trustees.

In a letter dated Wednesday and addressed to Anderson Republican Rep. Brian White, Solicitor General Robert Cook said a court “would likely uphold” either measure.

The House Ways and Means Higher Education Subcommittee advanced a measure last week that called for the closure of S.C. State for at least three semesters to deal with its estimated $70 million debt. That measure was tabled by the Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday, and replaced by Merrill’s proposal, which was approved unanimously.

Reach Cynthia Roldan at 708-5891.