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Eckstrom Comments Reflect Failure To Appreciate, Understand SCSU Evolution
5/7/2014 3:25:46 PM

Richard Eckstrom
By Barney Blakeney

S.C. Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom started a firestorm last week with comments some consider disparaging in reference to South Carolina State University.

During an April 30 S.C. Budget and Control Board meeting, Eckstrom made comments that for economic reasons SCSU students had no option but to attend the historically Black institution and and questioned the schools designation as a Historically Black College and University (HCBU) since predominantly white higher education institutions don’t have similar designations.

The Budget and Control Board met to decide whether to lend SCSU $6 million to help it meet past due financial obligations. The university already has asked the state’s legislature to lend it $13.6 million to cover bills. Eckstrom said the board should not lend the institution the money based on its status as an HCBU, but simply because it needs the money.

Eckstrom abstained from the vote among the board’s five members. The board voted to approve the loan, with conditions, by a 3-1 margin. But it was Eckstrom’s remarks that angered SCSU supporters already on edge by the institution’s tenuous financial situation accentuated by obvious mismanagement and potential criminal activity on the part of some administrators.

Eckstrom said SCSU’s status as a HCBU should not be the reason for the board’s support. He also said students attending the school do so because they can’t get in other institutions. He qualified the remark that SCSU students can’t afford to attend other institutions noting an overwhelming number of students need financial aid. Some 30 percent of instate SCSU students receive need-based financial aid. Still, Eckstrom’s remarks ignited a media firestorm of condemnations.

S.C. House of Representatives Minority Leader Todd Rutherford immediately issued a statement calling Eckstrom’s remarks uninformed, ignorant and embarrassing. He said Eckstrom should apologize to the SCSU community. Eckstrom refused.

The S.C. Legislative Black Caucus issued a statement also asking Eckstrom’s apology for “callous, offensive and inappropriate” comments. His comments that kids can’t afford to attend other schools maligns an entire student population, the caucus said.

Michael Allen, president of the Charleston Chapter of the school’s alumni association he, his wife and daughter chose to attend SCSU though they each have the financial ability to go elsewhere. “It’s a choice,” Allen said.

Eckstrom got off track when he attacked the institution’s HCBU designation and further lost focus with remarks about student’s financial ability.

“Eckstrom doesn’t know what’s in someone else’s pockets or what their values may be. But we have a national climate where some people feel they can say anything in a public arena,” Allen said.

SCSU Board of Trustees Chairman William Small Jr. said he doesn’t see Eckstrom’s remarks as disparaging, that they are reflective of a failure to understand the evolution of an institution linked to the economic development of the state.

SCSU’s mission has evolved from a segregated society to one in which it has integrated responsibilities to play a role in the future of the state. Small said Eckstrom’s remarks reflect the underappreciated, full importance and potential contribution of the institution.

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