Former trustee James Clark has been named S.C. State’s 12th president, less than two weeks after the school escaped a death sentence by retaining its accreditation.
Trustees of the state’s only historically black public college named Clark president after a short meeting Wednesday.
Clark, 64, is well known in the Midlands, where he was the longtime head of AT&T’s computer business.
“To fulfill the commitments we made in securing accreditation and strengthening further S.C. State’s financial condition, we need a leader with proven success in meeting these kinds of challenges,” said Charles Way Jr., chairman of S.C. State’s board of trustees.
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“James Clark knows how to build and lead teams to success. He has had an outstanding career in business, a long-time involvement with higher education in South Carolina and a close association with S.C. State.”
Clark had been an S.C. State trustee for a year. He resigned from the board before he was named president Wednesday.
Clark was named to S.C. State’s board after legislators, fed up with years of budget deficits and financial mismanagement at the 120-year-old school, sacked the previous trustees. Before that, he was a Benedict College trustee for 18 years.
Some critics questioned why S.C. State did not conduct a national search for a new president instead of naming a board member as the school’s new head.
However, Way said S.C. State’s trustees did not want a prolonged search for a permanent president. Also, given the Orangeburg school’s recent financial woes, trustees knew they wanted someone with a background in finance.
“It just became evident to us that James could fit that background,” Way said.
Clark, a Columbia resident who graduated from M.I.T.’s Sloan School of Management, is credited with turning around a once-struggling $1 billion division of AT&T’s computer business. He also has worked for General Electric, Gillette and Exxon International, S.C. State said.
Way said trustees hope Clark’s corporate connections can boost S.C. State’s fundraising. “He has the financial acumen to do it.”
Clark will take over for Franklin Evans, named interim president last July after the school’s trustees fired president Thomas Elzey.
Evans resigned “to pursue his personal and professional goals,” S.C. State said.
A university spokeswoman said Clark would not be available for an interview until Friday, when he officially starts his four-year term. Clark still is in contract talks with S.C. State, spokeswoman Elizabeth Mosely-Hawkins said, adding his pay has not been finalized.
“Having been closely involved with the accreditation process, I am acutely aware of the accreditation board’s concerns about our financial condition and the commitments we needed to make to retain our accreditation,” Clark said in a news release. “I am also fully committed to strengthening the learning opportunities of every S.C. State student, whether it’s in the classroom or through practical real-world experiences.”
Clark’s appointment comes less than two weeks after S.C. State’s accreditation was taken off probation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. That decision allowed S.C. State to retain its accreditation, necessary for the school’s survival.
State Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said she supports the board’s decision.
Cobb-Hunter had said solidifying S.C. State’s leadership is crucial to the school’s turnaround.
“It’s in the best interest of the university to put permanent leadership in place so that some of the tough decisions that still need to be made can be made,” she said Wednesday.
To balance its budget, S.C. State has cut faculty and staff, renegotiated contracts with vendors and, most recently, seen S.C. lawmakers forgive $12 million in loans that it owed to the state.
Now, Cobb-Hunter said, S.C. State must install internal checks and balances to avoid making the same financial mistakes again.