|Black Legislators Falling Short In Fund-Push for S.C. State
10/22/2014 3:03:22 PM
South Carolina State University officials are being asked to travel down a long and winding road that could lead to heartbreak. University administrators are asking the South Carolina General Assembly to lend it $12 million to pay outstanding bills. They made the same request earlier this year and got $6 million to tide the university over. During the interim the institution’s academic accrediting agency placed it on probation because of its financial and administrative woes.
In a Monday interview with several SCSU officials the consensus was that the state’s conservative general assembly seems to be directing orchestrated efforts to defer the allocation of necessary resources which could result in the institution’s demise as the state’s only publicly funded historically Black university.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, members of the group said so many intervening and uncertain conditions have become factors in the equation, it’s hard to determine what will happen with the university.
In February SCSU administrators asked the general assembly for $13.6 million to pay bills, but the legislature only allocated $6 million which was used to pay some debts. In June university officials received word the institution would be placed on probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), after being warned a year ago about non-compliance in financial and board governance issues.
Last week SCSU President Thomas Elzey told the state’s Budget and Control Board the university still needs $12 million that will be disbursed over three years.
“We went from $13.6 million to $12 million over three years and the governor is saying she won’t sign off on that until an audit the legislature has required is complete. And that won’t happen for another three or four months,” said one among the group.
“I’m not sure the legislature appreciates the need to move forward with a plan that puts the university in a competitive position both academically and financially. Everyone is conveying a lot of good will, but the process doesn’t generate a great deal of security.”
To remain competitive in the state’s university system, SCSU must be funded adequately to meet its financial and academic program obligations. Barriers to that funding are being constructed as the university contends with meeting requirements for ending its accreditation probation, said another member of the group.
“I find all this unsettling,” she said, “especially as all the universities around us are being funded and their academic programs are being expanded. This is just too much to try to understand. I’m reminded of people who caution the legislature ultimately could use conspired deficiencies to dismantle the university’s organizational structure.
“This bears watching,” said another group member. “Given the economic impact the university has in the Orangebuurg community and on other businesses around the state, I don’t see closure. But as in some other states, SCSU could be placed in some type of receivership that ultimately could lead to it being placed under the administration of some other institution.”
Another official said, “Remember all this is about fiscal stuff that didn’t just begin last year. We’re asking whether the general assembly values the role the university has played and continues to play in higher education. Are they thinking about balancing the budget when they should be thinking about what this state would be without the institution?
“It’s time the state’s Legislative Black caucus and stakeholders get into the conversation about the university’s future. I don’t think it will survive unless those voices are heard,” he said.