COLUMBIA, S.C. — U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and his wife called Wednesday for the ouster of South Carolina State University’s embattled president and for the college’s entire board to be replaced.
Clyburn, a Democrat, and his wife, Almeta, both graduated from South Carolina’s only public historically Black college in 1961 and made those and other recommendations for getting their alma mater past its financial crisis.
“A highly qualified chief executive officer … should replace the current president who has precious little support from alumni and supporters, and minimal credibility with those who determine the school’s funding and academic status,” the Clyburns said in a letter to alumni that was released to reporters.
University spokeswoman Sonja Bennett-Bellamy said the school had no comment.
The Clyburns also asserted that the college’s trustees should be replaced by a board of retired executives and college presidents for the next 18 to 24 months, and that legislators should pass a law allowing out-of-state residents to serve as trustees.
Later Wednesday, the House budget-writing committee is expected to vote on a proposal to temporarily close the financially troubled college, then reopen it in 2017 after a massive overhaul. The idea is not expected to pass, but it reflects legislators’ increasing frustration.
The Clyburns’ letter comes one week after the Legislative Black Caucus called on Elzey to resign. But Elzey refused, and the board stood behind him. Following a three-hour meeting behind closed doors Thursday, board Chairman William Small said the trustees will honor its four-year contract with Elzey, who was hired in 2013.
In the letter, the Clyburns point to the decades of fundraisers they’ve held to raise money for scholarships for students to attend S.C. State and other universities.
“But today’s crisis is about more than giving, and bulldog tenacity is going to be required to survive,” the letter reads.
S.C. State’s unpaid bills continue to amass to more than $11 million, despite a $6 million loan the university received last spring from the state. Elzey has requested $6 million in the upcoming state budget to pay back the state. A second state bailout of $12 million was approved in December. The school has received $1.5 million of that so far.
S.C. State is digging out of a hole created by years of declining enrollment, along with a drop in state funding and federal changes that made many students ineligible for grants. Despite the shrinking revenue, the school continued to spend as if nothing had changed, Elzey has said.
The university’s breakeven point is 4,300 students, the Clyburns wrote, but current enrollment has dropped below 3,000.
“If things continue along the current plane, the legislation to close the school will not be needed. There will not be enough students showing up in September to open the doors.”