A state senator warned trustees at The Citadel there would be “consequences” if the military college went ahead with a controversial policy designed to curb hazing by transferring cadets to new companies after their first year.
But Sen. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, says he was offering advice as a concerned alum, not making a threat as a state lawmaker who helps elect Citadel trustees and decide the college’s funding.
In a text conversation reviewed by The State newspaper this week, Goldfinch warned one trustee that moving forward with the proposed sophomore shuffle is “a dangerous proposition at this point” and “is going to come with consequences.” Goldfinch told the trustee “there will be a unanimous letter on this issue coming from the Citadel delegation soon.”
Goldfinch sent the same text to at least one other trustee, according to a Citadel spokesman.
But the other three members of the delegation — an unofficial group of Citadel graduates in the Legislature — told The State they haven’t seen any letter and never agreed to Goldfinch’s request to sign on.
“I don’t even know what kind of consequences he is referencing,” said state Rep. Nancy Mace, a Charleston Republican who is running for Congress in the 1st District. “What does that mean? ... I do have concerns with the sophomore shuffle, but it’s not at the point where we need to be threatening people about it.”
Freshman state Rep. Bobby Cox said such interference is inappropriate.
“As an Army officer and as a state legislator, I’m not in the business of interfering with the inner business of an institute,” the Greenville Republican said. “There’s a way to go about doing things. That’s why we appoint boards to run schools, so there’s not interference from the state Legislature in that regard. Our job as state legislators is to provide resources so the school can be successful.”
Advice or threat?
New Citadel President Glenn Walters announced the sophomore shuffle in February. Starting in 2020, the college will assign rising sophomores to a different company than the one they were in their freshman year.
The shuffle is supposed to keep enrollment in each company stable, since some companies might lose far more cadets through attrition than others. Transferring sophomores will ensure each company has enough capable cadets to fill leadership roles, the college said.
The Citadel has said the policy also “keeps cadets focused on the traditions of the college and prevents dysfunctional norms from taking root at the company level.”
Essentially, the college wants to prevent freshman who experienced a specific type of treatment in their company from doling out the same treatment to others in their company when they become upperclassmen.
But the plan has angered Citadel alumni, students and parents who say it breaks from tradition and quashes the camaraderie that freshman cadets form as they survive their first year together in their companies.
Goldfinch, a 2004 Citadel graduate, acknowledged contacting trustees and urging them to intervene to stop the policy’s implementation.
He said the “consequences” he mentioned in the text were the loss of alumni confidence in The Citadel’s administration, as well as an accompanying drop in alumni donations.
“All of that is absolutely true. I stand by all of those words,” Goldfinch said. “Everybody knows there are going to be consequences to this decision.”
Goldfinch said he was not threatening to take any action as a lawmaker who votes on the college’s funding and trustees.
“A non-Citadel person will have an issue understanding this,” Goldfinch said. “The people that are on that board that are legislatively appointed are not just friends, they’re like brothers of mine. ... You or anybody making an assumption that I am threatening to remove them is laughable because that’s not the kind of relationship we have. It’s a crazy assertion because I would never remove people that are close to me.”
Goldfinch has previously been accused of using his office to penalize a state agency.
Earlier this year, he pushed a proposal that would have prevented the Department of Natural Resources from enforcing hunting laws in a Georgetown wildlife sanctuary, six years after Goldfinch’s father was fined $470 by that agency for illegally hunting an alligator on the same protected land.
Both Goldfinch and his father said the hunting incident was unrelated to Goldfinch’s proposal. Goldfinch said he authored the proposal as a warning shot to stop the agency’s proposed regulations that would close off other areas of the nature preserve.
The senator withdrew the proposal in May under a barrage of criticism.
The State contacted all seven of The Citadel’s trustees who are elected by the Legislature for this story.
Trustee Stanley Myers — a supporter of the sophomore shuffle — said he was aware of Goldfinch’s text though he did not personally receive it.
“We Citadel grads, we can be passionate about a lot of things, particularly our school,” said Myers, a former Citadel football quarterback. “This issue is a very contentious and emotional issue for the kids and the graduates.”
Asked about Goldfinch’s texts this week, Citadel board chairman Fred Price Jr. said, “I have no response to that” and said a reporter would need to speak to the college’s spokesman.
Trustees Jimmy Nicholson — who received one of the texts from Goldfinch — and Allison Dean Love also referred questions to the Citadel’s press office.
Trustees Dylan Goff, Gene Pinson and Peter McCoy Sr. did not respond to requests for comment.
Citadel spokesman Col. John Dorrian confirmed Goldfinch reached out to several members of the college’s board but says the college hasn’t received any letter from the Citadel’s legislative delegation.
The board stands by its decision to support the policy, Dorrian said.
‘I expressed some reservation’
The Citadel’s four graduates in the Legislature have been in talks with Citadel leaders for months about their concerns with the sophomore shuffle, they told The State.
But three of the four said they did not agree to sign and send a letter with Goldfinch. And Goldfinch told The State he hadn’t typed up a letter for them to sign.
“At no time did I agree that I was going to send a letter,” said state Rep. Chris Murphy, R-Dorchester. “In fact, I expressed some reservation about a letter that I have not reviewed. I have a son that’s currently down there, and I don’t want to do anything that is going to be detrimental to him.”
Goldfinch said he was just trying to urge the board to assert its legal right to overturn the new president’s proposal, rather than going along with his controversial plans.
“They are great people, but they have a tendency to stand up and salute when the three-star general walks in,” Goldfinch said. (Walters is a retired four-star Marine general). “That’s not the way boards work in South Carolina with universities and colleges. They are supposed to set the policy, and the president is supposed to execute that policy.”