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Lawmakers push bill to restructure UofSC Board of Trustees ‘in dire straits’

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Published: Apr. 15, 2022 at 5:36 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) -Influential South Carolina lawmakers are calling for major change to the body that governs the state’s largest university, the University of South Carolina.

They point to the controversial 2019 presidential search, fallouts with major donors, and expensive buyouts after firing two prominent coaches as reasons for the shakeup.

The push has gained renewed effort recently after contentious hearings between current trustees seeking to keep their seats and the lawmakers who decide if that will happen.

“If the board is as dysfunctional as you say it is, why in the world would we re-elect any of the current members to their current seats?” Speaker of the House Jay Lucas, R – Darlington and a member of the College and University Trustee Screening Commission, asked incumbent board member Charles Williams during a March 28 hearing.

“That’s up to y’all,” Williams responded. “I mean, y’all are the ones that elect them, and if you think the change needs to be made, all you have to do is make it.”

The board currently has 20 voting members, with most of them assigned based on the state’s 16 judicial circuits.

This plan would cut that nearly in half to 13 voting members. One member would come from each of South Carolina’s seven congressional districts, four would come from the four counties where UofSC has campuses, and the other two would be chosen by the governor, who would no longer be able to select the board’s chair.

The governor would remain a nonvoting ex officio member, as would the president of the university’s alumni association and student body president, while the state superintendent of education, who also currently serves in that capacity, would not.

All the current trustees would also lose their seats by June 2023, though they would be able to run again to be reelected by the General Assembly.

The state House of Representatives fast-tracked this proposal and recently passed it with nearly unanimous approval before heading out on its weeklong break before the Easter holiday.

“It’s become this small, little fiefdom of people that are controlling the University of South Carolina, not giving that authority to the president, taking it for themselves, and making sure that the University of South Carolina cannot do what it needs to, to be the flagship university of this state,” House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, D – Richland, said.

Rutherford is one of the bipartisan House bill’s nine sponsors, who also include Lucas and House Majority Leader Gary Simrill, R – York.

“There is no doubt that the University of South Carolina is in dire straits as it relates to its board,” Rutherford said. “Decisions that are made, decisions that everyone kind of questions, and again, when your two biggest donors are not giving money to the school right now, there are things that need to change.”

The bill now sits with the state Senate, which has about a month left in this legislative session to act on it. Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R – Edgefield, has said at least one of those weeks will likely be devoted to budget debate.

“There’s a lot of interest in that,” Massey said of the UofSC proposal. “The House has moved that very quickly. I don’t think we’ll move it that quickly, but there is a lot of interest on the Senate side in dealing with the USC Board of Trustees, and I expect that’s something we’re going to try to take up before the end of the year.”

This proposal is scheduled to have its first Senate subcommittee meeting next Wednesday.

It would need to be advanced by the full Senate Education Committee after that, then approved on the Senate floor to pass that chamber.

If the bill does not pass the Senate and get to the governor’s desk by the time the legislative session ends, it dies and would have to be re-filed next year.

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