No matter the reason for only one candidate filing for the 12 board positions at South Carolina State, the result is an opportunity for the university to continue under its present leadership and phase in new trustees.
When the Legislature mandated a solution to the fiscal crisis at S.C. State in 2015, it ousted the former board and appointed a seven-member panel to get the job done. The chairman is Orangeburg native, former S.C. commerce secretary and businessman Charles Way.
In his unique way of putting things, often using colloquialisms, Way says the board has done a good job of getting “the ox out of the ditch.”
In addition to securing state fiscal assistance, the university is operating in the black, has increased enrollment and has set the stage for long-needed improvements in infrastructure from buildings to technology. The board and interim administration made difficult and unpopular decisions that helped S.C. State remove the specter of losing accreditation. And when Southern Association of Colleges and Schools’ probation was lifted, the trustees moved to put in place permanent leadership with one of their own: President James Clark.
The decision allowed a seamless transition and solidified the type of relationship between board and administration needed for a university on the road to better times.
But as Way has often stated, the work in unfinished. The present board is the right group to continue as trustees.
Members were selected to serve until June 30, 2018, “or until a full new board of trustees is elected and qualified.”
In order for them to continue serving, the Legislature will need to revisit the legislation.
The seven are needed as the Legislature goes about reaching the full complement of 12 legislatively elected board members over time. A completely new board taking over in 2018 is simply not a sound approach.
Bowman Sen. John Matthews has been a leading proponent of continuity on the board.
"I would not support replacing the entire board," Matthews has said.
Matthews said he has talked to some of his Senate colleagues and there is support to change the election process.
Instead of 13 new board members at once (one is appointed bv the governor), Matthews would like to keep the current members and add the other six over a three-year period.
For example, two seats could be filled in 2018, two could be filled in 2019 and two more in 2020, ensuring institutional knowledge will be retained on the board.
"It will allow people who made the appointments of the current board to keep that authority and then we can continue to phase those in," he said. "There are six board members that can be added without changing the statute."
As much as Matthews’ plan is sound, even it would require reopening filing for the trustee seats. The better approach is to keep the present structure for all of 2018 and look at beginning the election of additional board members in 2019 or even after.
That would give those wanting to serve the university an opportunity to make their intentions known now with an election a year or more away. It would give university supporters the opportunity to recruit those they believe are best for the board.
And it would continue the present leadership during a time when, in Sen. Matthews’ words, the “institutional shock” to the university of a completely new board is not needed.