The S.C. State University board hopes to have a deal by next Wednesday to cut ties with president Thomas Elzey, whom trustees put on paid leave earlier this week.
That decision to part ways did not stop the board Thursday from approving a plan, developed by Elzey, to cut $2.25 million from the school’s budget starting July 1, primarily through faculty and staff cuts. The school has a deficit of more than $17 million.
Trustee Tony Grant called Elzey’s plan “woefully lacking,” asking acting president Franklin Evans to propose cuts in administrative spending. The board also gave the go-ahead Thursday to a three-year, $20 million fund-raising campaign.
Half of the proceeds from that campaign would go toward paying off the school’s unpaid bills, including more than $11 million owed vendors. The rest of the money from the “Preserving the Legacy” campaign would go to scholarships, technology, academic programs and faculty recruitment.
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With bills in both chambers of the State House proposing to oust S.C. State’s board, the trustees are unlikely to see the end of that fund-raising campaign.
Some trustees expressed unhappiness Thursday about being blamed for the school’s financial crisis. They blamed that crisis, instead, on lagging state funding.
“I’m told there will be a new board to come and fix it," said John Corbitt, the longest-tenured trustee at the state’s only historically black public college. “Give us the money now and we’ll fix it right now. ... I hope this board is not being made a scapegoat. I hope somebody else will share the blame.”
Trustee vice chairman Gail Joyner-Fleming said the current board — which includes lawyers, business owners and education veterans — can do the job. “I don’t know if you’re going to find a more qualified board anywhere in this state.”
In an hourlong closed session, trustees discussed how to part ways with Elzey, the president they hired less than two years ago from The Citadel, board attorney Ken Childs said.
Joyner-Fleming issued a statement supporting acting president Evans as “an experienced administrator with years of distinguished service to the university.”
The board hopes to have a separation agreement with Elzey when trustees meet again Wednesday, Childs said.
A group of black state lawmakers and U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, a Columbia Democrat and S.C. State alum, had called for Elzey’s ouster for failing to stem the school’s deficit, which the president inherited. Elzey has said the board would not follow his suggestions to make deeper cuts to the school’s budget.
The school has made $1.3 million in budget cuts since July, including closing a dorm. Those cuts did not prevent the school’s deficit from increasing by more than $1 million since Jan. 1.
Elzey could receive the remainder of his state pay, more than $400,000 at this point, if fired without cause, according to his contract. Elzey declined comment Thursday.
S.C. State trustees Thursday blamed media reports about the school’s financial woes for increased scrutiny from accreditors, who have placed the college on probation, citing its financial and governance issues.
Ahead of its April review of the school, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has asked for new information about financial controls at the university and ties to school foundations, Evans said.
The commission will vote in June on S.C. State’s accreditation status.