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South Carolina State University Needs a Hand and a Fair Shake
7/8/2016 3:48:06 PM

William Small, Jr.
By Dr. William Small, Jr.

First I want to congratulate Mr. Clark on his appointment to the position of President at SCSU. I wish him well and offer any help, to the goal of resurrecting South Carolina State University that I can extend. Likewise, I publicly extend my thanks to former Interim President E. Franklin Evans, for his good work in attempting to steer SCSU through this critical period in HBCU history.

For the past several years, I have watched the Legislature of this State, turn a significant but manageable economic problem into a major crisis which now threatens the very existence of South Carolina State University. It is nothing short of amazing, how the voices of the State Legislature have disparaged and criticized the contributions and the efforts to repair the University and at the same time, never acknowledge the Legislature’s historic and present role in manufacturing and perpetuating the current crisis. This strategy, so far, has affirmed the adage that “the best defense is a good offense”. On the other hand, this strategy has also affirmed the age old truth that “might is not always right” and what can pass for “knowledge is not always true”.

The Legislature’s decision to have its special handpicked Board, abandon academic protocol and tradition, and appoint a President, from among itself, to a four year term does not mask the continuing effect of undue legislative interference in the management of South Carolina State University.

In fact, this practice, as it is uniquely applied to HBCU’s has properly been identified as a serious threat to the academic integrity and to the institutional autonomy of the HBCU community. For South Carolina it is also a sad reminder that the political leadership of this State has not out grown the need to maintain a double standard regarding the way in which it treats black and white issues and interests. No self- respecting majority institution in this State would be subjected to this kind of management insult. Moreover, I suggest that no self- respecting institution would accept this kind of externally imposed leadership without comment. What does the faculty and administrative silence tell the larger academic world about the political climate ay SCSU, and the opportunity for the free expression of ideas that exist there?

As we watch this newest scenario, extending legislative control over the University play out, there are some important things to remember. First remember that we have been here before. It was only a few years ago that we had a highly recruited and thoroughly vetted “new Board” that was elected by the Legislature and then almost immediately “boastfully fired” by the very same Legislature, without conversation, charges or due process. Secondly, during this, in my opinion, artificially created crisis, no one has been able to forge a public conversation with respect to the future role of South Carolina State University and its place in the community of State Universities.

The conversation has been entirely framed around issues of “pain, budget cuts, staff reductions, program shrinking and marginalization etc. How can you design a repair, independent of an assessment of role and place? Perhaps, under these circumstances, the most important thing to remember is not “who brings the brief to the table”. Instead, the most important thing to remember is “who has written the brief” and what are its operational implications and consequences for SCSU in the future of HBCU educational formats and capacities.

Suggestion: Let us expand the conversation. Intelligent people should be able to deal simultaneously with two issues that are essential to fixing the problem of general concern. Intelligent well intended people should be able to talk about budget remedies and academic program protections and improvements in the same conversation regarding the SCSU repair. That does not require special talent. However, I suggest that in this case it will require a special courage and willingness to demand the reconstruction of SCSU as a competitive HBCU in the State of South Carolina. Where is the conversation regarding critical issues of SCSU development?

For example:
• How does the School of Education, working in conjunction with the Felton Charter School and other Schools at the University create models of flagship educational practices and instructional modalities designed to impact and enhance public school instruction in this South Carolina and the surrounding region?
• How does the School of Engineering strengthen, and in some cases reconstruct, relationships and “the pipeline” with The University of Wisconsin, Denmark and Orangeburg Tech, the Savannah River facility , Boeing and other major industries in this State, in order to capitalize on the uniqueness of the Nuclear Engineering program and other engineering program offerings at SCSU?
• How can the SCSU Transportation Center and other instructional units at the University secure the resources to conduct a major study of the impacts of Port Development/Expansion in Charleston and Savannah and the implications of that expansion for economic development opportunities in “South Carolina’s Corridor of Shame”? All strong universities have an impact on public policy development in their regions.
• How soon can the SCSU Planetarium, in this era of Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics, be brought back on line to serve SCSU, local and regional public schools, and the general public as a magnet for visitation, visibility? This would bring citizens and visitors to campus thus enhancing the importance of SCSU to the State educational community and economy. The same question applies to better marketing the Stanback Museum as a University and regional asset. At present, the Standback Museum enjoys greater international visibility than it does locally.
• How does the University strengthen its Honors College Programs as a way to further enhance the Honors Experience, attract high achieving students, and counter balance some of the negative publicity that has been visited upon SCSU as of late? Domestic and foreign student exchange opportunities, internships, and work study opportunities could enrich the experience of honors and non- honors students and improve the image and reputation of the University. I am advised that other HBCU Presidents are currently making trips to Cuba to foster exchange relations and create opportunities to develop student, faculty and related 1890 Program and scientific exchange activities. Africa, the Caribbean and parts of South America, in particular, offer tremendous potential in this regard.
• What are the existing successful programs that are ripe for expansion? Audiology and Speech Pathology, The Doctorate in Education, a Health Care component of the School of Management, Physical Therapy in Physical Education?

These are only a few of the conversations that are important to have now. In academia, if you are not growing, or planning to grow, you are probably dying on the vine. It is unfortunate that these conversations seemingly will have to be demanded or forced to take place. These “normal” activities themselves are not cost prohibitive. They should be found to exist as a normal part of a University planning operation.

As I write this as the 4th of July approaches, I am reminded of the words of that great American statesman, Frederick Douglas. “Power concedes nothing without a demand… it never has and it never will". 

If South Carolina State University is going to be saved, the faculty and staff will have to find the backbone to bring their voice into the conversation. The National Alumni Assn. and local Alumni Chapters will have to do more than come to Home Coming or send money. The Black Legislative Caucus cannot afford to appear to have thrown the rock, and now hidden its hand.

South Carolina State University’s ROTC Generals and Military Officers must now be Generals and Officers in defense of the Alma Mater; for if there is no enduring victory at home, there can be no enduring victory abroad. Likewise, the NAACP is going to have to “play a card or fold”. I suggest that each of the living SCSU Honorary Doctorate Degree holders should be called on to play a supportive role in resolving this crisis; or they should be asked to surrender their Degree. The hustle must end and no one can be extended a pass.

Black leadership in this State and nation must come to the fore by showing its mettle and commitment on the issue of HBCU survival. The sad fact of the matter is that too many folks are betting that this will not happen. Remember who it is, at this point in time, who is writing the brief.

Dr. William Small, Jr., is a retired educator, a “fired trustee” and a former Board Chairman at SCSU

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