Two men with long ties to the University of South Carolina are vying for a single position on the school's board of trustees, giving state legislators a tougher-than-usual decision in what is often a quiet vote for re-election.
William C. Hubbard, a Columbia attorney who has served on the board since 1986, is being challenged by Russ McKinney, who served as USC's spokesman for 20 years before leaving that post last year.
Both men, along with other candidates for public boards and commissions, will meet with a legislative screening committee in January. The General Assembly is expected to vote for board and commission members in April or May, depending on the agenda of the legislative session.
Some legislators, unwilling to speak publicly about individual candidates because they have not appeared before the screening committee, are quietly hoping for some changes to USC's board, which is stocked with many longtime members.
Excluding ex officio members, USC's board members have served an average of just under 15 years, according to USC.
That average length of service is roughly the same as that of the 13 members of Clemson University's board of trustees, seven of whom have lifetime appointments. The 17 members of the College of Charleston's board have served an average of seven years.
"I think in all of our boards, particularly in Carolina's board, there has been increased interest in the last few years because it has been a little stagnated," said state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Berkeley.
Board positions don't come with big pay. Members are granted a per diem and expenses for travel to and from official functions.
And many members - a collection of lawyers, doctors, businessmen and businesswomen - would be able to afford to purchase the home basketball and football tickets they receive.
Indeed, several have donated millions to the schools they serve.
USC's business school is named in honor of Darla Moore, a 10-year board member who has pledged millions in gifts to the university.
The school's football offices have been named in honor of Dr. Eddie Floyd and his wife, Kay. Floyd, a surgeon, is a 27-year board member whose money helped pay for the new facility.
A big part of the lure of board positions lies in the high-profile opportunity to shape one of the state's major institutions.
Board members are prominent community players. They choose the school president and give final university approval to compensation packages and contract extensions for athletic coaches. Almost all of those who apply for board spots are graduates and cite the chance to serve their alma mater as the principal reason for their candidacy.
McKinney, who now works as a public relations consultant in Columbia, said he is not challenging Hubbard because of displeasure with Hubbard's work on the board.
"He has served the university with the utmost distinction," McKinney said. "My running in no way is disparaging to him."
McKinney did not attend the board meeting held immediately after his departure, when university officials thanked him for his work. But McKinney insisted he left the school on good terms and is not running to gain a say at an institution that spurned him.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I hope no one would see it that way."
USC's board members represent specific geographical districts, and McKinney and Hubbard live in the same district.
Efforts to reach Hubbard were not successful. But in a statement of interest filed with the screening committee, he explained why he wants to remain on the board.
He touted changes that occurred during his tenure, pointing out that "a significant portion of funds that formerly were allocated to administration have been reallocated to academic pursuits."
Hubbard also wrote about challenges he believes the university must face, including:
- Improving efficiency to better utilize funds
- More fundraising, primarily for scholarships
- The continued recruitment of high-quality students, particularly black students
"During my tenure as a member of the board of trustees, my primary focus has been on improving academic quality and improving the campus environment," Hubbard wrote. "Quality teaching and research are the core functions of the University of South Carolina, and all other endeavors must build upon that foundation."