So what are we to do with S.C. State?

A couple of weeks ago, I raised the question here of whether South Carolina should continue to prop up S.C. State University, given the institution’s repeated failures to be accountable for the money that keeps getting sent its way.

Now, a legislative committee has gone farther in that direction that I expected, proposing to shut the school down completely for two years, fire all the faculty and staff, and start over in 2017.

Which is really one of the bolder moves on any issue I’ve seen SC lawmakers seriously consider in quite some time.

According to The State:

Under a budget proposal approved Tuesday by a panel of the SC House, the state would:

•  Close S.C. State for the 2015-16 school year; there would be no classes or sports also in 2016-17

•  Fire trustees, administrators, faculty and staff. Halt athletics programs

•  Allow current students to get state scholarships to attend other S.C. public college or historically black universities

•  Assume the school’s debt, more than $100 million

•  Working with a panel of current and former college presidents that is advising S.C. State, develop a plan by Jan. 1, 2017, to re-open the school in the fall of 2017…

This seems unlikely to make it through the General Assembly, but it’s already changed the conversation. The next day, the Black Caucus called for S.C. State president Thomas Elzey to be sacked.


40 thoughts on “So what are we to do with S.C. State?

  1. Lynn Teague

    My thought on this is that President Elzey didn’t create the problem and has been there a relatively short time. It is hard to see how his management, whether good or bad, could be sufficient to account for the present condition of SCSU, or how his firing could be enough to fix it.

  2. Dave Crockett

    As a retired state employee, I wish that if this plan is executed, some consideration is given to the staff who would summarily be let go.

    Every staff member at SCSU should have undergone annual performance management reviews and those who have demonstrated exemplary service (and I’m sure there ARE some!) should be given more than a bum’s rush to the unemployment office. Those who haven’t demonstrated their performance adequately (and/or the managers who didn’t bother the take the EPMS process seriously, as I often saw in my years) are another thing…

    1. John

      Dave is absolutely right. This plan is fundamentally lazy in condemning everyone with one stroke. It is the act of a sloppy, reluctant and essentially disinterested manager….

      That said, I look forward the day the DOT is shut down when THEY fail to account for a 10 million dollar cost overrun….let’s see if the Budget and Control Board sets this standard for everybody. $42 billion for deferred maintenance costs should see an awful lot of people looking for new jobs, right?

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    The state Democratic Party chairman put this out just seconds ago:

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – February 12, 2015

    SCDP Chairman Jaime Harrison’s Statement Regarding SC State University

    Columbia, SC – South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison issued the following statement on the situation regarding SC State University:

    “My fellow South Carolinians, as many of you know, I am a product of Orangeburg SC. Orangeburg will always be home to me and hold a special place in my heart. For long as I can remember, South Carolina State University has been one of the crown jewels of Orangeburg. I fondly remember the countless number of school field trips to the SCSU Planetarium and participating in the Odyssey of the Mind competitions in their laboratories, and eight years ago, SC State was the site of a Democratic Presidential Primary debate. South Carolina State University has served as an anchor and a source of strength and stability for so many generations of students and families in Orangeburg and across the state.

    Like so many of you, it has been painful to watch such a proud institution decline because of petty personal politics and rampant fiscal mismanagement. Over the course of the past few months, I held out hope that things could change and would improve. I knew things were bad, but ultimately felt that the university simply needed leaders in our state government and within its corps of alumni to help them achieve financial stability and establish a new vision for the future. However, to read a few days ago that several members of the legislature had come to the conclusion that the most logical solution was to shutter the university for two years; displace thousands of students; layoff hundreds of workers; abandon research projects and grants; and ultimately wreck the economy of one of South Carolina’s most stable counties, was simply mind blowing. I realized then that the affliction that South Carolina State University has suffered over the years, a lack of a cohesive vision and a comprehensive approach to its issues and problems, was the same affliction that we have had in our state government for decades. The last time I looked our state motto was “Dum Spiro Spero,” which is Latin for “While I Breathe, I Hope” and not “When it gets tough, we give up.”

    South Carolina State University is currently broken, but it can be fixed. We don’t have the luxury of years to fight about whom is to blame. We don’t have the luxury of time for the legislature and the Governor to pass the buck or throw their hands up in frustration. It is time for the leaders of this state to do something they have been elected to do… LEAD.

    Governor, I ask you to be a visionary leader in this situation. I ask that you pull together a non-partisan committee (composed of business, political, and civic leaders in state and out of state) who truly care about this institution and the communities it impacts and give them three weeks to come up with solutions on how to stabilize the university, cut the red tape restricting growth, and install the appropriate leadership needed in various areas. This unconventional problem calls for unconventional actions, but shutting down this institution is not one of them.

    In the meantime, many of us will fight this proposal with everything we have. We will be vigilant in our opposition, while working tirelessly to help raise the funds that we can to stabilize and ultimately cure the financial needs of this University. This issue is not a Democrat versus Republican fight. This is a fight about what is right and what is wrong. I hope you will join many of us in the effort to ‪#‎killthebill.

    I close with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail. He said, “More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in the generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

    There were many who were silent last election. This past week in the legislature demonstrates that is time to be silent no more.

    Jaime Harrison


  4. Barry

    Interesting to see that the budget problems prompt a shutdown consideration- but the awful 4 year graduation rate doesn’t seem to much matter to anyone, including SC State.

  5. Rose

    I was surprised by reports that the university has about 3400 students and 1000 employees. That ratio seems way off. Wikipedia lists the number of academic staff as 550 for 3400 students. That’s skewed when compared to two other HBCUs.
    Florida A&M has 620 academic staff for 9500 students. North Carolina A&T State University has 663 academic staff for 10,400 students.
    Seems like they are very top heavy with plenty of area for faculty cuts, which they are refusing to do.

      1. Barry


        school districts in rural South Carolina have an extremely difficult time recruiting good teachers to local school districts.

        think about how hard it must be to recruit great professors to Orangeburg, SC. Are they able to land quality professors in decent numbers compared to other schools? Are do they have to settle most of the time?

        Orangeburg isn’t exactly near the top of any list where people are wanting to live and work.

          1. Barry

            That is what the PR brochure would say

            But those are weekend trips. I work in Orangeburg at times. I’ve alsways wondered how they attract quality academic professionals.

            By the way, since 2010, WIS tv announced that SC State has received double the state funding compared to Lander- a school similar in size.

            1. Kathryn Fenner

              Academic jobs are tough to get. My husband, Harvard BA, Univ of Chicago PhD in computer science, no less, got his first job at the University of Southern Maine, the junior commuter campus of the University of Maine System. Imagine you have a degree in English lit, say…

            2. Barry

              oh I agree those jobs are hard to get

              but SC State has to have faculty- and I openly question the quality of some when you have to recruit those faculty to Orangeburg, SC.

              Greenville, SC? Well, Greenville is an outstanding place to live with many cultural activities and a thriving city.

              Charleston? No brainer.

              Columbia? Capital city, museums, large lake, sporting events, fairly major concerts, etc…

              It’s the exact same problem school districts in such areas face. But at least with school districts, you can rely on a fair number of home grown teachers that prefer to stay right at home. Much harder to do that obviously with college faculty.

            3. Kathryn Fenner

              The Chronicle of Higher Education did a piece on how almost no academic gets a job in anywhere near as desirable place as s/he went to school in. Only handful get jobs on the desirable campuses. A friend who is a U of C law grad who then got a PhD in English and a Fulbright, works at Hope College in Nowhere, Michigan. Another, who worked with Michelle Obama at Sidley and Austin, works some tiny place near Pittsburgh.

              Lots of colleges and universities are not located in desirable locations for folks who had a great deal of choice where to go to school. They are located where the students need them to be, or where the founder wanted them to be.

              And Doug, ha ha, but pretty much every degree requires some English lit courses, much to your oft-trumpeted chagrin, and those are taught by…English lit PhDs.

            4. Barry

              If Benton Harbor has a college like SC State- at least they do have Lake Michigan…

              Orangeburg doesn’t even have that option. They do have Cookout across the street that I do frequent though.

              I’m not knocking the rural areas of Orangeburg. But I’d question most any faculty person that chooses to live there that has other viable options, based on other factors going on with SC State.

              It’s not the Duke University of South Carolina that just happens to be located in a bad spot. That would explain a lot of things.

              SC State has a dismal graduation rate, constant infighting, lack of a real vision, a former trustee about to be sentenced, financial mismanagement issues going back for years, and is on academic probation.

  6. Lynn Teague

    Faculty size reflects the number of academic fields that an institution tries to offer more than it does student numbers. At the college level you can put 25 or 50 or 100 people into many classes. Is SCSU trying to offer too many majors, especially too many that are available at other state institutions? This is only one of the many many questions central to academic planning that the people in charge don’t seem to have done a good of either asking or answering.

    The people who should be asking and answering this level of question aren’t on the administrative payroll, they are on the board, and among the legislators who appoint the board members.

    1. Barry

      Are they even equipped to ask the questions?

      At a school like USC or Clemson, you have attorneys, business owners from large companies – some very successful people on their boards giving advice and counsel.

      For small schools you often have pastors, retired faculty members, someone that owns their own small company or owns a small family company, and administrators for secondary schools that make up the boards.

      There is a huge, huge difference between the two.

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      I really think we need an advanced ed. Chancellor or some sort of statewide oversight by someone or ones qualified to evaluate, so that we are making the best use of our scarce dollars. The legislature panders. Someone should be scrutinizing whether we need three x programs, etc.

          1. Mark Stewart

            And you can’t. Just look at the USC Board of Trustees. Mack Whittle has the most business and strategic planning experience on the board – and he ran his bank into the ground.

            Interestingly, not a single board member resides or works outside of SC. That’s not interesting in a good way, by the way.

            1. Barry

              J. Burroughs might argue with that.

              Darla Moore certainly would have when she was on the board.

              Schools like Clemson and USC have more than 1 person to rely on in such matters.

            2. Mark Stewart

              I specifically did not mention Burroughs.

              USC has a number of alumni who could be thoughtful, opinionated and worldly board leaders – but that isn’t what the legislature (or the Governor) wants. They want malleable rubber stampers who plan for the future based upon the politics of today.

              At least USC doesn’t have a Manager, Community and MUNICIPAL Relations for Waste Management Inc. on its board of trustees like Clemson. I mention this guy only as an example; both boards are majority comprised of, for want of a better word, lobbyists.

            3. Barry

              I don’t disagree- but at least there is a vision at USC and Clemson. There are many students that want to go to Clemson and USC that aren’t admitted.

              That’s not true at SC State. If you don’t get in Clemson or USC, you can get in at SC State.

              The legislature has typically approved SC State BOT members based on what some black representatives and senators wanted.

  7. Doug Ross

    If they can’t present a budget that does not include loans from the state then shut down the college. Raise tuition, cut academic programs, reduce staff, find some big donors from the school’s supposed world class alumni to help out.

    The reality is SC State exists to take federal and state grant and loan dollars and LIFE scholarship money.

    Two candidates for a job: Marvin Jones with a degree from S.C. State and Marvin Smith with a degree from USC. Same GPA, same major. Who’s resume is going to be at the top of the pile?

    1. Barry

      Let’s be honest- most students that go to SC State can’t get into other schools like USC or Clemson.

      There is a reason schools like SC State gladly accept kids (say athletes) that can’t meet the bare, low minimums allowed by NCAA for admission to a school like USC or Clemson.

  8. Mark Stewart

    The state should close the little colleges like USC Aiken and USC Beaufort, close SC State and give it to Clemson to run as a satellite campus and close Francis Marion and give it to USC to be the same, or to close it permanently since USC also has the Upstate campus.

    The state of SC sponsors too many mediocre schools that do not provide a return on investment to the state as a whole – or even regionally within the state.

    A Historically Black College label is a meaningless thing when applied as status quo protecter; the promise inherent in this description was a commitment to provide a meaningful education, and a higher education system, to serve all of our state’s citizens. While some of this institutions will find a way to thrive into the future, the promise can more generally be upheld by other means in this day and age. Not everything is worth retaining from the past. The future is an ever evolving thing. Creative destruction is as Darwinian as nature.

    1. Rose

      The regional campuses were originally established as pipelines to the main Columbia campus. Do your first two years at home, then finish in Columbia. Not sure when that changed. Incidentally, Francis Marion was the original regional campus – USC-Florence.

    2. Kathryn Fenner

      USCA is not a little campus any more. A lot of my friends who were in the top tier in junior high, but whose grades fell in high school, went there, partly for admission reasons and partly so they could live at home. They are now excellent teachers, engineers, and so on. USCA is a good school (which surprises me, since when I was a little kid, it was only a two-year place).

  9. scout

    I don’t know much about the other programs at SC State, but it and USC are the only two master’s degree programs in Speech Pathology in the state. I think for awhile MUSC also had a program but I don’t think they do anymore. The master’s degree is the lowest degree you can get to be licensed in the profession. It is a field in high demand currently. USC’s program is always highly competitive and always accepts the max number of students they are allowed to take based on faculty available for clinical supervision ratios in their clinic. I’m sure some degree programs may be redundant, but I think that is a loss that will be felt.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *