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Ousted University of South Carolina Board Member Offers $5 Million Gift to School

COLUMBIA, S.C. – A University of South Carolina benefactor ousted from the school’s Board of Trustees shrugged off the snub late last week and promised to give the school $5 million for a new aerospace research center.


Gov. Nikki Haley removed Wall Street financier Darla Moore and replaced her with a campaign donor two weeks ago, saying the board needed a new perspective. The university’s business school is named for Moore, who has pledged $70 million to USC since 1998. She has served on the board as the governor’s appointee since 1999.


Moore’s announcement came a day after roughly 150 students and alumni rallied at the Statehouse to call on Haley to re-instate her. Haley made clear she would not, responding that no one is entitled to public office, regardless of their record of service or philanthropy. A Republican legislator has introduced a proposal to create another seat on the board that legislators could fill.


“I don’t need a title or position to speak out. I just need a voice, my vision and a forum to be heard, just like you did this week,” Moore told several hundred students gathered at the university last Thursday.


The comments were her first in public about the flap. She challenged Haley and legislators by asking the state to match her gift. The Republican governor had convinced legislators to remove money for the aerospace center from the 2011-12 state budget proposal approved by the House.


“Neither you nor I need to be on the Board of Trustees to make this happen,” Moore, a 1975 alum, said to a standing ovation. “We need to simply hold our leaders accountable and tell them we understand they may not be able to help us—but we demand that they not hurt us.”


Moore said the state needs a highly educated work force to attract industry and retain its talent. University officials said Boeing’s 2009 decision to expand its South Carolina operations was the impetus for the aerospace center. Boeing’s jetliner assembly plant is set to open this summer and is expected to create 4,000 jobs. USC is the state’s flagship school, with more than 29,000 students at its main campus in Columbia. Moore is USC’s top donor and also has given $10 million to Clemson University to honor her father, a 1950 graduate.


Haley said Moore’s pledge is exactly what she’s been talking about.


“In tough budget years, when we are having to make the hard decisions that return government back to its core functions, private funds can be raised for things like the aerospace center,” Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said.


Moore, a Lake City native, said her only requirement for the new center is that it be named for Ron McNair, an astronaut from Lake City who died in the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. She called McNair an American hero. The African-American was infamously told as a student in segregated South Carolina that he could not check books out of the public library.


Senior Hakeem Jefferson, 22, of Gable, thanked Moore, saying her tribute to McNair “almost brought tears to my eyes.”


“Finally, we’ll have something named after an African-American,” said Jefferson, who’s majoring in political science and African-American studies.


The money will not cover the entire cost of the center, but USC President Harris Pastides said it will get the project moving.


Preliminary plans for the Ronald E. McNair Center for Aerospace Innovation and Research (or The McNair Center) include two master’s degree programs, as well as undergraduate minors, in aerospace engineering and engineering management, and collaboration with the business school on research in aviation manufacturing, according to the university.


Moore’s donations to the university have been made through irrevocable trusts and she told the students that she isn’t putting her checkbook away.


“My commitment to USC is as strong as ever,” she said.


Haley replaced Moore on the 20-member board with Lexington attorney and USC graduate Tommy Cofield, who gave $4,500 to Haley’s campaign, as did his sister. That leaves the board with one Black female and 19 White men.


Haley had two slots to fill on the board. The Legislature picks 16, and the other two seats are non-voting spots reserve for the state education superintendent and the president of the school’s alumni association.


With her other pick, Haley re-appointed Mark Buyck Jr., also a Haley campaign donor, as her designee. He has been a governor’s designee since 1987, though he took a hiatus between 1999 and 2003, when a Democrat was governor. Asked why Haley didn’t replace Buyck, Godfrey noted he is a non-voting member and said he has pledged to keep Haley informed.


Moore, who has donated to both Democrats and Republicans but does not list a party affiliation, and Haley did not meet. Haley sent a three-sentence letter, dated March 3, to a New York office, thanking Moore for her service.


“However, today I am appointing your successor. This new appointment will be effective immediately,” read the letter.


Haley also called her, but the call was not returned, according to the governor’s office. The two-sentence letter to Cofield confirming his appointment was dated March 10 and included a hand-signed “thank you.”

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