Students, faculty and alumni rally against USC presidential selection process
As calls from lawmakers, alumni and faculty grow to overhaul the University of South Carolina’s board, the school’s trustees are digging in.
It’s unclear what the change to the board would look like, but some of the ideas proposed at a Tuesday S.C. Senate Education Subcommittee meeting include adding term limits for board members, changing how board members are elected and adding voting student and faculty positions to the board.
“This came to my mind prior to the presidential search,” Sen. Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, said of a bill to restructure the board. “This has nothing to do with that.”
However, the controversial search still drew the ire of Peeler, the president of the Senate.
“It was embarrassing they way they did it,” Peeler said of the presidential search.
Though Peeler isn’t necessarily trying to remove the entire board, he wants to “start all over,” he said.
Sen. Darrell Jackson, D-Richland, also said he was “embarrassed” by how the presidential search was handled.
“The presidential search exposed things to us that we all knew were issues,” Jackson said.
One of the proposed solutions is term limits, something favored by Marie Louise Ramsdale, a USC alumnus and Charleston-area lawyer who testified at the meeting.
“We wouldn’t be on the front page of the paper every week if things were going well,” Ramsdale said.
“I think 30 years on the board breeds complacency,” Ramsdale said.
Another proposed solution is to give students and faculty a vote in board matters, something favored by both Ramsdale and Christian Anderson, the president of USC’s newly founded American Association of University Professors chapter who studies the organization of colleges and universities.
The only concrete proposal for overhauling USC’s board of trustees is a bill that was introduced days after USC’s board initially reopened the presidential search back in April. That bill, sponsored by Peeler, Jackson and Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, would reduce the board to 11 people, seven of whom represent a S.C. Congressional district and are elected by the General Assembly.
“The effect of that would be to have the smallest number (of trustees), which would constitute the smallest board for, by far, the largest student body,” USC Board of Trustees Chairman John Von Lehe said at the meeting.
Currently, there are 20 board members, 16 of whom represent a judicial district and are elected by the General Assembly.
The bill is still in the early stages, and something Harpootlian called “a good first step, but only a first step.”
Von Lehe, who said he testified on behalf of the all board members except for Chuck Allen, said he was “reluctant” to restructure the board, because a new structure may not deliver any substantial changes.
“We believe.... the makeup of the board does increase the gender and racial makeup of the board,” Von Lehe said.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, also thought reducing the number of people on the board wouldn’t solve the problem students, faculty and lawmakers are upset about.
“What problem are we trying to solve,” Grooms asked. “If you have a smaller board you don’t have diversity of mind.”
In fact, having a smaller board may exacerbate the perceived lack of voices on the board, Anderson said.
“A smaller board.... concentrates powers instead of distributes them,” Anderson said at the meeting.
That’s because, Anderson said, each committee will have fewer members and therefore less representation.
“What ultimately is important is more representation,” Anderson said.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of trustees that would represent Congressional districts under the proposed legislation.