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Legislative Black Caucus Challenged To Protect SCSU
12/29/2015 5:41:41 PM

William Small

Staff Reports

The former chairman of the board of trustees at South Carolina State University is asking members of the S.C. Legislative Black Caucus to exercise close scrutiny of efforts to make the institution financially solvent.

Dr. William Small Jr. voiced concerns that the South Carolina State Legislature’s efforts to salvage the financially troubled historically black university could change the role it has played since being established in 1896.

While legislators must address incurred debts, they also must provide the funding to make the university competitive with others. He applauds the new energy being demonstrated in regards to SCSU, but it must be realized that the institution’s survival is at stake, Small said.

Earlier this year the legislature appointed a seven-member panel charged with overseeing the institution’s operations until 2018. That panel includes its chairman Charleston businessman Charlie Way, Steve Swanson, James Clark, Doris Helms, Milton Irvin, Donnie Shell and Jeff Vinzani.

They were appointed to serve after months of political wrangling in the South Carolina General Assembly initiated by a proposal to close the institution that for years has suffered debilitating administrative inconsistency, financial mismanagement and corruption.

Decades of mismanagement led to the institution’s approximately $23 million indebtedness and calls from some legislators to close it down.

Small says its now incumbent upon the state’s Legislative Black Caucus to watch the watchdogs. Like most other institutions serving Blacks, SCSU has been marginalized, Small said. Some “low-hanging fruit” like the university’s Stanback Museum, its planetarium and property that represent unequaled assets are being ignored, he said.

As the front line in the legislature confronting policies affecting the state’s Black citizens, the legislative Black Caucus is uniquely positioned to serve as a protector for SCSU and to insure the institution not only survives, but remains competitive as an institution of higher learning in the state, Small said.

Local members of the caucus say it is fulfilling that role. Hollywood Rep. Robert Brown said the caucus made SCSU a focal point in the last legislative session and he anticipates that focus will continue when the legislature reconvenes in January.

“It was the Black caucus that fought for SCSU when others in the legislature wanted to close it down. We fought to keep it open and we’ll continue fighting on many different fronts,” Brown said. But hemcautioned, “We can exert all the influence we have, but sometimes that’s not going to be enough. The legislature is all about the numbers and we’re in the minority.

“I agree that we must be mindful that there are forces that want to marginalize the institution, but we’re doing our due diligence,” he said.

Charleston Rep. Wendell Gilliard said better bridges must be built between the administration at SCSU and the Black Caucus. He said the appointment of the interim board of trustees is problematic, but came about because too many legislators sought to manipulate the administration. In the end, the only people hurt have been students, Gilliard said.

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