South Carolina State University will be part of a lawsuit alleging the state still has a segregated system of higher education – the only question is whether the school will be a plaintiff or a defendant, the attorney who filed the suit said Friday.
Current and former SC State students have sued the state and the Commission on Higher Education saying duplication of SC State programs at other public universities has hurt enrollment and the bottom line at the Orangeburg school.
The suit alleges that if white students can receive the courses elsewhere, they are not likely to attend the state’s only historically black public university.
The debt at the financially troubled school is expected to reach almost $24 million by month’s end. State lawmakers earlier this year removed its board of trustees and a new board was put in place.
The lawsuit suit filed earlier this year in federal court in Columbia seeks monetary damages for the plaintiffs and a special mediator to recommend a remedy for what it calls a segregated higher education system.
Orangeburg attorney Glenn Walters said if the university doesn’t join as a plaintiff because the school isn’t getting adequate state funding, he will name the school as a defendant.
“We certainly want SC State University joining our lawsuit” as a plaintiff, he said. “They have never filed suit to say the state Legislature has failed to provide proper funding.”
Charles Way, the chairman of the new SC State board, said the board has been handling other matters and has not yet been briefed on the case.
If the school is named as a defendant, Walters said, “the students will argue their degrees were diminished by negligence and improper management of the school by the university itself.”
Attorneys for the state and the commission have responded to the lawsuit saying South Carolina was required decades ago to dismantle its segregated system of higher education. They argue in court documents that the U.S. Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights determined in 1988 that the state’s desegregation complied with federal law.
Wilkes said the issue of SC State’s role in the lawsuit must be resolved before other matters, including whether the case will be made a class action suit, can be addressed.
The lawsuit is not expected to go to trial until next year.