from the State Newspaper They have hired and fired presidents with head-rolling dispatch. They have publicly feuded. And they have passed the chairman’s gavel like rolls at a Thanksgiving Day dinner.
Along the way, South Carolina State University’s board of trustees has damaged the university in the eyes of key supporters in the General Assembly and some disappointed and embarrassed alumni. The trustees also have raised a new set of questions about the school’s leadership just months before the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools launches its re-accreditation examination.
“I have consistently fought for resources for S.C. State,” said state Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg. “They make it tougher and tougher to convince people that we are worthy of assistance.”
While Cobb-Hunter and others have been vocal about their frustrations with the university, there was an eery silence from the school’s most prominent graduate, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., as the board decided against renewing the contract of President George Cooper and then, two weeks later, reversed that decision.
Clyburn has offered no public comments about the goings-on at S.C. State despite several requests for comment.
As the third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Clyburn is well-positioned to direct federal money to S.C. State. And he has. But Clyburn was furious with the board’s decision in 2007 not to renew the contract of Cooper’s predecessor, Andrew Hugine. The congressman has been equally frustrated with how the university has proceeded with plans for a new transportation center that bears his name and not accounted for millions of dollars it has received.
Board members, prompted by questions raised by The (Charleston) Post and Courier, voted last week to review spending on the transportation center. State Sen. Robert Ford, D-Charleston, said Friday that he had the required five signatures from lawmakers to launch an audit by the state’s Legislative Audit Council, the investigative arm of the General Assembly.
Meanwhile, legislators, who already have imposed large budget cuts on S.C. public colleges and universities, said next year could bring even bigger cuts. That would make S.C. State’s financial situation – it was one of the few schools in the state to order faculty and staff furloughs to deal with budget cuts and an unexpected drop in student enrollment last fall – even more strained.
Into this vortex again steps Cooper, the fired and rehired president.
Thursday’s vote may have extended Cooper’s stay at S.C. State, but board members – even those who initially voted to renew his contract – have been far from effusive in their praise of the president they hired two years ago.