ORANGEBURG, SC — S.C. State University will ask trustees Thursday to cut jobs, freeze openings and reduce contracts to trim nearly $5.8 million from the Orangeburg schools current budget.
The school, which has been dealing with leadership turmoil and dwindling enrollment, learned of the deficit when an audit found a $5.8 million accounting error involving research funds.
S.C. State trustees chairman Walt Tobin of Columbia said he was surprised about the schools financial situation.
We were not given all the facts until recently, said Tobin, a board member since 2008. I knew we had a deficit but not at this level.
Plans by the states only historically black public college to cut 6 percent from its budget is a sign of a turnaround to Sen. Robert Ford, a Charleston Democrat who has criticized S.C. States leadership.
Its part of the growing pains that had to be discovered and taken care of, he said.
S.C. State interim president Cynthia Warrick sent a letter to students, alumni and faculty last week announcing planned cuts.
While the impact will be felt throughout the university, we believe the changes are necessary to put us on a path to a future that is fiscally sustainable, efficient, and effective, she wrote. Let me be clear: Our circumstances are difficult but manageable.
The school already has a hiring freeze that should save $2 million by not filling an unspecified number of open jobs, said Eric Eaton, the schools assistant vice president for finance, who arrived this summer.
No details on job cuts have been announced, though Eaton said the school would lower the number of contract professors. No academic programs will be eliminated, he said.
Cuts in travel, supplies and advertising also are on the table. Employees also have been asked to not use school purchasing credit cards and to get department approval for spending.
The school also has worked to consolidate dorms and did not open a third amid lower enrollment.
Enrollment is at about 3,800 students down by 500 from a year ago. S.C. State had close to 5,000 students in 2007, according to state statistics.
Tobin said he did not know if trustees would approve cuts Thursday, saying the budget is worked on throughout the year.
S.C. State has started what Warrick called an aggressive fundraising campaign that includes mending and building relationships with the local community, alumni, local, state, and national legislators, foundations, and leaders in business and industry.
The school has hired a new vice president for development, Michael Hubbard, who worked at the U.S. Department of Energys Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education.
Warrick, Hubbard and other new leaders at the school must overcome a year of controversy that included the firing of eight high-ranking employees in February, the resignation of school president George Cooper in March and an internal investigation by former SLED chief Reggie Lloyd that he said found unspecified criminal issues. No charges have been filed.
Several trustees stepped down, some citing the schools dysfunction.
Tensions remain on the board. Tobin is involved in a tussle over the chairmanship. Trustee Patricia Lott of Orangeburg still claims the top position after a disputed vote. She declined further comment Tuesday. Tobin, however, is listed as the chairman on the S.C. State website and will run the meeting Thursday.
State Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said he plans to pre-file a bill to review the trustees and shrink the size of the board. Lawmakers could not compromise on competing bills to replace S.C. State board members before the last legislative session ended in June.
Tobin said trustees are changing their ways. We are going to give this more scrutiny than in the past, he said.
Ford said he thinks trustees, some of whom he asked to resign earlier in the year, have heard what students, faculty and alumni have been saying about how they run the school.
A few people were used to having the school as their playground, Ford said. Those days are gone.
Reach Shain at (803) 771-8619.