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An Open Letter to the South Carolina General Assembly Black Legislative Caucus

Dr. William Small Jr.Dr. William Small Jr.

Dear Chairman Anderson:

I am writing to you as a member of the State Legislature but more particularly in your capacity as Chairman of the South Carolina Black Legislative Caucus. I hope that things are going well with you and with the Caucus.

I am writing to the Caucus as a retired educator, and as a former Board Chairman and recently “fired” Trustee at South Carolina State University (SCSU). I am also the parent of a multiple degree holder from SCSU. I am writing in major part because of the many lingering and unresolved issues pertaining to the health and future existence of SCSU. These issues in my opinion require a serious and candid conversation between the public and our elected representatives who are exerting such direct influence and control over the University. The conversation is warranted on behalf of those who are currently in attendance at the University, as well as all of the citizens of this state who could benefit from attending South Carolina State now and in the future.

This conversation is long overdue and, if honestly conducted, it should result in some rationale understanding and the development of a plan for this state to address many of the critical challenges faced by its entire system of public education. The issues here are larger than a “university.” The issues here embrace grave matters of social and economic justice, remedies for past inequities, and the very central question of the role to be played by Black leadership in the continuing efforts to reconstruct South Carolina and build a stronger America. This is a challenge that can only be responsibly addressed in a serious and comprehensive context.

Now, while the University of South Carolina is proudly announcing studies which show how successfully it is engaging issues of Black education and Black student accommodation and Black students at the University of South Carolina are demonstrating and organizing to address the lingering and innovative factors insuring the continuation of racial discrimination and modern day marginalization, now is the time for that conversation. When the conversation in the Legislature is, in part, about appropriating “big bucks” to create special museum space for the recently furled confederate flag and other confederate memorabilia; and when the conversation on the ground at South Carolina State virtually closes State’s Standback Museum and leaves a Planetarium closed in this era of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, now is the time for that conversation.

Now that the Legislature has implemented a system of University Trustee representation, for South Carolina State University, which removes electoral district accountability, the Legislative Black Caucus seems to have a heightened degree of oversight responsibility for the welfare, maintenance and strengthening of the State’s only publicly supported four year HBCU. This I feel is particularly true in that all but several members of the Caucus voted for the removal of the regularly elected Board and the establishment of the Board that is currently serving the Legislature at South Carolina State University. It would logically follow that the comparative “score cards” of the Board of Trustees at South Carolina State which was duly elected and then removed and that of the current sitting Board would be of particular interest to the Black Legislative Caucus and to the public as well.

In that our removal occurred without any conversation with the Board and the Legislature, and without any presentation of “charges” or specifically recited allegations of deficiency, or an opportunity to discuss misperceptions or plan for a responsible transition in Board leadership; I want to provide the Caucus with some information which might be helpful as it makes future assessments regarding Board performance and responsibility at South Carolina State University. Permit me to share some of the accomplishments and plans which the duly elected Board, that the Legislature voted to dismiss, was pursuing while working under what were often very hostile and politically and intrusive conditions.

• In a meeting with the Governor, we reached an understanding that construction on the University Pedestrian Bridge Project would begin this fall, thus eliminating a documented major safety hazard at the University. Serious life altering injuries have occurred at this location on campus.

• We planned and committed to reopen the University Planetarium in the Fall of 2015.

• We had requested plans from the Stanback Museum Staff to energize the Museum and have it serve as a magnet for service to the local school districts, the community and to the Felton Charter School project. This would bring unique attention to the University and greatly aid in recruiting and Grant Procurement.

• We had directed the President to prepare a report on the property leased to the Town of Orangeburg (allegedly valued at approximately $47,000,000) and leased for one dollar a year as a way of monetizing University assets to address the deficit problem, rebuild academic programs and make critical improvements to the infrastructure at the University.

• We had encouraged, proposed and adopted initiatives which resulted in a surprised increase in fall enrollments, in spite of the political turmoil, which resulted in an approximate $1,000,000 increase in University revenue.

• Significantly, we traveled to Atlanta to meet with SACS SOS officials to get a clear understanding of the difficulty that previous Boards of Trustees at SCSU were having operating in compliance with SACS standards.

• We recommended and approved the hiring of the Consultant Firm Silver and Associates, who provided invaluable and essential service and guidance resulting in Board of Trustee conduct being removed from the list of SACS concerns that our Board inherited. Silver and Associates provided guidance and assistance beyond the scope of their contract, and after our removal, their contract with the University was summarily discontinued.

• We participated fully and cooperatively with the Blue Ribbon Panel initiative although early agreed upon conditions for participation were never honored by the State.

• We reestablished channels of communication with State and Local NAACP offices and Chapters as a way of resurrecting University credibility.

• We accepted in State and out of State invitations to meet and speak with SCSU alumni chapters as a way of restoring University credibility and confidence.

• We used our good offices to meet with business, agency, organizational and community leaders to help strengthen flagship programs, encourage inter institutional cooperation and improve University /press and community relations.

This is a part of the record upon which we were summarily removed. In the language of the Legislative leadership, this is the record on which “we were fired.”

I do not profess to be as informed regarding continuing events and developments at the University as you ladies and gentlemen perhaps are. I am aware, however, that the current sitting Board has declined to participate in two lawsuits which have tremendous potential to draw support to the challenges facing SCSU and HBCUs in general. More specifically, these actions could provide a direct approach to eliminating the fiscal crisis at the University. In addition, I am aware that the handling of the issues attendant to the Stanback Museum and Planetarium has resulted in considerable embarrassment and discontent among the Museum supporters and donor population and the further marginalization of the Museum as a University and regional asset. In addition, a number of first rate professionals have left the University. These conditions raise a series of troubling questions about the political and programmatic health of SCSU. Are we seeking solutions for Orangeburg and local political interests or are we seeking solutions for SCSU and the citizens of South Carolina?

Let me say in conclusion, my concerns are with the integrity and responsible protection that is without question owed to SCSU. If Black lives matter, Black institutions must matter as well. How the Caucus defines and exercises its responsibility on this issue will have a direct and lasting impact on Black lives and Black institutions in South Carolina. I am hopeful that the Black Legislative Caucus can find the time and the will to openly defend the continuing importance of South Carolina State University. The issue today is still very much the same as the issue that spawned the “Orangeburg Massacre” in1968. That issue being: Whether or not the State of South Carolina and those who dare to lead it are prepared to support the emergence of South Carolina State University as a competitive university within the community of South Carolina Universities? The increase in student protest against racism at PWI institutions across this country will hopefully be a wakeup call and a call to action for all of us. I respectfully submit that the credibility of Black political leadership, in this State and in this Nation, weighs in the balance. The conversation cries out to be had.

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