The former president of South Carolina State University filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against the school and its trustees last week, accusing board members of acting improperly in his firing last year.
Andrew Hugine’s lawsuit, filed in Orangeburg County, accuses seven trustees and one ex-officio board member of defamation of character and conspiracy.
Hugine, who took over as university president in 2003 and received a five-year contract extension two years later, was fired in December for poor performance in academics and not keeping up the university’s infrastructure. A review released by the school a month later showed that the board had given Hugine an overall score of 2.84 out of a possible 5.0.
In the lawsuit, Hugine says the seven board members appointed to evaluate his performance “defamed (Hugine) by falsely accusing him of negligent and or intentional misconduct in his evaluation.”
Specifically, the suit accuses Maurice Washington, who was board chairman at the time, of intentionally downgrading Hugine’s job performance so that he would be fired.
Washington also told a group of South Carolina State alumni that Hugine was to blame for the school’s faults, including “the loss and misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars annually,” according to the lawsuit. Washington knew those allegations were false “and he made them with actual malice and with a reckless disregard to the truth or falsity of the matters,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit also accuses Washington and six other board members — Earl Bridges, Lumus Byrd, Schylver Foster, Reggie Gallant, Shirley Martin and Martha Scott Smith — of conspiracy to harm Hugine by falsely evaluating him “with ill will … to cause unjustified harm.”
Evelyn Fields, an ex-officio board member and president of the faculty senate, also is accused of defamation because she, along with Washington, “wrongfully solicited and gathered faculty support for the termination of (Hugine) using falsehood and half truths or much worse,” according to the lawsuit.
Hugine is seeking $1 million from the university itself, accusing South Carolina State University of breaching his 2005 employment agreement. He is also asking for a total of $2 million from the individual defendants, according to the lawsuit.
Hugine’s firing drew criticism from at least two state lawmakers, with one legislator threatening to call for a full audit of the school and another proposing changes to the way the board is appointed. Washington said the school owes its students and the state better than they have gotten in the past.
U.S. Department of Agriculture official George E. Cooper took over as president on July 1.
Charles Boykin, an attorney for the school said in a news release he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment but said the school would “vigorously defend” itself against the allegations.
Smith and Fields declined to comment on the lawsuit, and a listing for Foster could not be found. Phone messages left for other board members were not immediately returned.
The historically Black college in Orangeburg, about 40 miles south of Columbia, has about 5,000 students.
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