Sen. John Matthews and Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter may not agree on the process to follow, but they both say the South Carolina State University Board of Trustees has to be restructured and it has to be done during this legislative session, which ends on June 7.
The two Orangeburg County lawmakers, who discussed the university on “This Week in the State House,” also agree that the vehicle for change is a bill introduced by Rep. Jerry Govan. His bill originally would have ended the terms of all board members on June 30 and created a smaller board.
Cobb-Hunter co-sponsored the bill by Govan, also an Orangeburg County Democrat. She later penned an amendment calling for the current trustees to be removed, with a transition board put in its place until a new board is elected in 2014. Her version was approved over Govan’s objections.
But Matthews is calling for changes to Cobb-Hunter’s version.
He cited a letter from Belle Wheelan, head of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, that says the legislation could threaten the university’s accreditation.
Matthews said that he will propose amendments to work out those problems, and he expects the bill to be on the floor of the Senate by next Wednesday.
Cobb-Hunter said she knew nothing of a letter from SACS.
“This is news to me,” she said. “There is absolutely nothing that any of the supporters of my amendment intended to do to jeopardize the university’s accreditation.”
She said that after reading the letter, she and her co-sponsors would respond to SACS.
The letter, which Wheelan addressed to Govan, said that the legislation does not define the grounds for removing trustees nor the process that will be followed, as required by SACS standards.
Additionally, the letter said that the bill could violate SACS standards by requiring the transition board to fire the president. University trustees are to be responsible for the selection of the university’s chief executive officer, and the governing board is to be free of influence from political, religious or other external bodies.
Matthews said he will send copies of his amendments to SACS for evaluation “so they won’t violate any accreditation policies.”
But Cobb-Hunter noted that she had “conversations with SACS” when she drafted her amendment and does not believe it violates SACS standards.
“I would suggest to you, my amendment doesn’t do that,” she said. “Number one, for cause, quite frankly, the investigator has given us cause for removal” of the trustees.
Cobb-Hunter said that former State Law Enforcement Division Director Reginald Lloyd, who is conducting an internal investigation at the university, said that “the entire board needs to go.”
Lloyd was not saying that all of the board is guilty of criminal activity or anything else, Cobb-Hunter said. Instead, he meant board members failed in their responsibility if they did not speak up when they knew things were happening that shouldn’t.
Cobb-Hunter said she could not say if she would support Matthews’ amendments since she does not know what they are.
Matthews said he disagreed with removing all the board members at once. He noted that three members have already resigned, two board members are up for re-election and several more will be up for election in 2013.
The legislature could almost have a new board within a year or two, he said.
But Cobb-Hunter said that she’d consulted the National Alumni Association, which has surveyed its members and they’re supporting removing the entire board and starting over.
Matthews said he also intends to propose a constitutional amendment to allow one-third of board members to come from outside the state.
Currently all board members must reside in the state.
Govan has already proposed such an amendment in the House of Representatives.
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