By Dr. William Small, Jr., retired educator and former Trustee and Board Chairman at South Carolina State University
Recent new releases and public comments reporting the plans to strengthen Denmark Technical College are encouraging and should be applauded by all who urge support for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, as well as by all who see the delivery of critical educational experiences as being important to the residents of the Denmark College service area.
Denmark Technical College, the Foundation, the State Technical College Board and the Southern Carolina Economic Development Alliance have set an outstanding example of what can be accomplished with genuine interests, sound planning and inter-agency cooperation. It is important to note, that this plan was established and will be implemented for the Fall of 2017, without the histrionics, institutional denigration and political grandstanding that regularly accompanies conversations about reform at South Carolina State University.
This agreement that will enable eligible students in the Denmark Technical College service area to participate in a two year free tuition program is a benefit for the residents of the school service area, but it is also a benefit to the South Carolina Technical College Community and importantly, it is a benefit to the State of South Carolina as well. In my opinion, this initiative is one of the most significant efforts that I have observed which directly addresses the educational challenges that continue to restrict human and regional development in South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame”. This is a program that produces a potential win/ win situation for all involved. It is an example of what can be achieved when educators and other progressive and responsible leadership interests assemble to put politics aside and address a problem with a commitment to produce a solution for the people of this State that is viable, productive and just.
As a former Trustee and Board Chairman at South Carolina State University, I cannot help but contrast this approach to problem solving and improving the delivery of educational services to the needing citizens of this State, with the style and approach adopted by the South Carolina State Legislature in addressing the conditions that it and previous South Carolina State administrations had created. In reality, there is no positive contrast. In my opinion, the Legislature’s approach and engagement at South Carolina State could not have been conducted with less professionalism or with less respect for the historical significance and contributions made by South Carolina State to the State of South Carolina and to the Nation. In my opinion, the behavior of the Legislature was arrogantly insensitive and disrespectful to the interests of entire HBCU and African American community.
Sadly and as a reminder, it should not be forgotten that the assault on South Carolina State University that was waged, “under the banner of repair” was fronted in part by African American political leadership. As I recall, it was also endorsed, by all but three of the African American members of the Legislature. To my knowledge, that same zeal has never been demonstrated on the part of the South Carolina Black Legislative Caucus to address the pattern of historic under funding and discrimination that has consistently hampered the competitive development of South Carolina State University and which is behind the need for major repair.
This history is not repeated in anger. It is, however, repeated to stand as a reminder of the fact that the process of repair at South Carolina State remains grossly incomplete. The cooperation and planning that took place to create a fix for Denmark and its communities stands as an example and a challenge to all of the supporters of South Carolina State University. The South Carolina Legislature that replaced a newly appointed ‘functioning and planning’ Board of Trustees, the new Board of Trustee that has been appointed by the Legislature, and the new President who was selected from the new Board Trustees that was appointed by the Legislature now have the authority and the legal responsibility to fix South Carolina State University. The all-too silent faculty and administration, the various silos of alumni support and engagement, the cadre of US Military Generals and Career Officers who are graduates of the South Carolina State R.O.T.C. Program and the distinguished community of South Carolina State Honorary Doctorate Degree holders must now assemble and become the guardians and architects of the repair process. The failure to so assemble is to capitulate to the continuing disparate and discriminatory pattern of treatment that South Carolina State University has historically received at the hands of the South Carolina State Legislature.
The Challenge for all who purport to value South Carolina State University is clear. If South Carolina State University does not develop plans and revenue generating activities to compensate for the loss of revenue that it is projected to experience due to the free tuition program at Denmark Tech, its enrollment will decline. With student being worth an approximate $1,000,000 a hundred to South Carolina State, a precipitous drop in enrollment will quite likely prove to be “the nail in State’s coffin”.
The question that has been raised for the last several years, without an answer having been produced, remains on the table: What is the comprehensive plan to “repair the University for competitiveness” that will be adopted at South Carolina State University? That conversation must now be conducted and it is imperative, that the plan be publicly placed on the table. It is incumbent on the same African American “leadership collective” that derailed and/or failed to support the previous transition effort, to see that this process takes place and to shepherd the process to a successful and definitive conclusion.
The following recommendations reflect earlier planning initiatives and concerns that were identified as positive and essential to the planning process. I re-offer them for purposes of information and hopefully further planning and discussion:
• Secure the thinking of experienced and reputable outside consultants to help define a fresh assessment of the challenges and possibilities for SCSU in order to insure the production of win/win solutions.
• Conduct an assessment of the real estate assets owned by SCSU in various parts of the State in order to incorporate those resources into economic and academic program assets to enrich the University offerings and increase University economic leverage.
• Immediately, reopen the Stanback Museum and Planetarium to serve as an attraction for visitors and school districts from around the State and country. The uniqueness of the Planetarium can and should assist the public schools in the “Corridor of Shame “with S.T.E.M. related projects and instruction. This should occasion: (a) A review of the relationship between the Penn Center and South Carolina State University, (b) An effort by the University and the Center to recover the historical iconography, artifacts and memorabilia, housed out of State that South Carolina reportedly, previously refused to accept, (c) These items can be shared and displayed by and between the two agencies.
• Adopt measures to insure the articulation of technology programs at Denmark and Orangeburg Technical Colleges with the SCSU School of Engineering and related programs. This should be a strong and healthy pipeline
• Reconstruct relationships between the SCSU Nuclear Engineering Program and The Savannah River site, as well as with the existing network of supporting/ affiliated universities and agencies
• Immediately develop a plan to improve the crumbling infra structure at SCSU. This plan must also include stadium renovation and repair. The Legislature should consider a “bond initiative”
• Develop and strengthen opportunities for student and faculty educational exchange experiences (foreign and domestic). Explore other options to encourage, invigorate and evaluate faculty research and scholarship
• Expand foreign student recruitment to globally strengthen “The SCSU Brand” and to increase Institutional revenue
• Assess those programs existing at SCSU to determine their readiness for expansion to the next higher level of degree offering. Use this assessment to also examine existing program strengths and weaknesses. Plans to strengthen programs and to insure academic competitiveness are essential to the survival of SCSU
• As the State’s only four year HBCU, it is inexcusable that SCSU has no Institute, research project or “brand association” with activities designed to improve instruction and quality of life issues in South Carolina’s “Corridor of Shame”. The Felton School, operating in conjunction with the School of Education, which has an Ed. D. Program, should be examined in that context. The Transportation Center should also be considered for similar engagement opportunities
These are but a few recommendations/suggestions for possible be inclusion in “the plan” to enhance the institutional integrity and regional importance of South Carolina State University. This is the direction in which the very able Board of Trustees that I had the privilege to Chair was developing a “policy focus” to support (to quote the Legislature before “we were fired”).
Many of these suggestions require little if any new expense. Certainly additional and in some cases better suggestions are certain to emerge; provided the planning process embraces a legitimate concern for “improved, fair and equitable treatment” for South Carolina’s only four year HBCU. Once again, I credit and thank Denmark Tech and their supporters for “pushing the needle in the direction of better”.