Why Legislators Want to Fire All of University of South Carolina's TrusteesBreaking News
tags: higher education, South Carolina, colleges and universities
Tensions between state lawmakers and the University of South Carolina‘s Board of Trustees hit a boiling point over the past week with the introduction in the legislature of a bill that would dismiss every board member and cut its membership nearly in half.
With multimillion-dollar coaching buyouts, concerns over campus-building names, and a divisive presidential search that led to scrutiny from an accreditor, the flagship campus, in Columbia, has been mired in negative publicity over the last few years. And lawmakers have put much of the blame for that on the trustees. The legislature’s proposal to shake up the board, which passed the House this week, 113 to 1, followed a string of terse interactions between trustees and lawmakers.
During hours-long hearings on March 28 and 29, a panel of legislators grilled current board members about those controversies, and ultimately refused to approve the reappointments of five longtime trustees. The College and University Trustee Screening Commission, which includes the Senate president and House speaker, is charged with reviewing proposed campus trustees. Its decision not to endorse five trustees — C. Dorn Smith, the current board chair; Thad Westbrook, the vice chair; C. Edward Floyd; John von Lehe; and Charles Williams — for re-election leaves their future membership in limbo even if the board-restructuring bill doesn’t pass.
“This just doesn’t really create a lot of confidence in y’all’s competency, do you understand … that perspective?” said Sen. Dick Harpootlian, a Democrat, to one of the board members, according to a video of the hearing. “Isn’t it time that we do more than just rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic? I mean this university has had its ups and downs as long as I’ve lived in Columbia.”
During the hearing, legislators expressed frustration about the board’s management of the university’s budget. They focused much of their questioning on the millions of dollars that the university had lent to its athletics department to buy out football and basketball coaches’ contracts, and on the university’s 2019 presidential search that was disrupted by accusations of political meddling.