State Sen. Robert Ford says he's worried that controversies erupting at South Carolina State University will harm the learning environment for students when they return this month to start a new school year.

Ford, D-Charleston, has sent two letters requesting help to remedy that. He has asked state Attorney General Henry McMaster to render an opinion on whether S.C. State's board acted appropriately when it rehired President George Cooper and overturned a previous election for board officers. Ford also has sent a letter to Senate Pro Tem Glenn McConnell and House Speaker Bobby Harrell asking them to form a committee to review and address internal problems at the Orangeburg college.

"The students are going to suffer this year with all this stuff going on, and they shouldn't have to," Ford said.

Ford was referring to internal staff problems in the wake of a newly configured board's decision last month to rehire Cooper two weeks after the previous board fired him.

Since Cooper's return, Leonard McIntyre, a key leader at the university who was one of two candidates in line to temporarily replace Cooper as interim president, was demoted. And Evelyn Fields, a former department head who was demoted to associate professor this past spring -- allegedly after being critical of the administration -- has filed a lawsuit against the university, Cooper and Joyce Blackwell, vice president.

Ford also was responding to internal tension surrounding the university's inability to answer questions on how millions of state and federal dollars for the James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center have been spent over the past 12 years.

The state's Legislative Audit Council has begun an investigation into where the money went.

Mark Plowden, communications director for the attorney general, said staffers in McMaster's office are clarifying legal questions with Ford. Once the questions are cleared up, they will respond to him, Plowden said.

Trustee Maurice Washington said he sent a letter to McMaster in July asking him to review the board's decision on the president and board officers. Washington questioned whether the board could reverse a decision that already had been executed.

Plowden said the attorney general's office can't respond to an individual request. An entire public body must make the request, he said.

Ford said that in the case of S.C. State, the board is too contentious to agree on calling for a legal opinion on a previous action. So he agreed to make the request.

McConnell said he had not yet seen Ford's letter requesting a review of what's going on internally at S.C. State, so he couldn't comment on it.

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