The chairman of a state agency that polices S.C. colleges and universities resigned on Friday over mounting pressure to quit after allegations he single-handedly approved a nearly $91,500 pay raise for the agency’s interim director.
“I’ve never walked away from a fight in my life,” Tim Hofferth wrote in his two-page resignation letter as S.C. Commission on Higher Education chair to Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, “but it’s clear to me now that I’m being used as a distraction to turn the focus away from this Commission’s message, that our students and families have serious problems gaining access to and paying for higher education.”
McMaster’s spokesman Brian Symmes said on Friday the governor is grateful for Hofferth’s service to the state and his leadership on the Higher Education Commission.
“During his time as chairman, the commission has led a renewed focus on affordability and accountability at our state’s higher education institutions,” Symmes said. “The governor expects the Commission to continue leading this important debate.”
Hofferth — appointed in 2015 by then-Gov. Nikki Haley — faced calls to quit after news broke last Friday that he approved a $91,487 raise for the agency’s interim director, Jeff Schilz.
The money was returned that day. However, that did not stop Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman, R-Florence — arguably the state’s most powerful legislator — from calling Hofferth’s actions illegal and demanding his resignation.
Shilz told state senators on Tuesday he had no knowledge of the raise — raising his salary to $257,767 — and did not ask for it.
In a letter to Leatherman, Hofferth defended the raise and told The State on Tuesday the raise was approved by the Commission.
However, two commissioners told lawmakers on Tuesday they did not remember approving the raise.
Also, in an Aug. 24 email obtained by The State, Hofferth wrote “the Commission voted unanimously on this initiative at our August meeting in executive session.” It is illegal in South Carolina for public bodies to vote in executive session. Hofferth said his language in that email was a mistake.
Schilz’s personal email was cc’d on the email.
Despite Hofferth’s resignation, inquiries into the Commission and its foundation’s finances requested by Leatherman and S.C. House Ways and Means Committee chair Brian White, R-Anderson, will continue.
“We need to get to the bottom of what’s going on with CHE and what has gone on especially with the foundation and the use of foundation money,” White said on Friday. “A lot of questions have been raised, and we owe it to the people of South Carolina and the taxpayers.”