Afro

S.C. House Subcommittee Votes to Close State’s Only HBCU

South Carolina State University (SCSU)

A South Carolina House subcommittee has recommended the state’s only historically Black higher education institution, South Carolina State University (SCSU), be completely shut down for one fiscal year, starting in July 2015, in order to address a $17.5 million budget deficit, according to various reports.

The recommendation by the SC House’s Ways and Means Higher Education and Technical Colleges Subcommittee also calls for the dismissal of the school’s president and Board of Trustees, the entire faculty, staff, and other state employees.

The subcommittee’s proposal further recommends that the state take over the institution, its outstanding debt, and effectively start from scratch. Students with a GPA of 2.5 or better who qualify to transfer to other in-state schools would have their tuition covered by the state for up to four years, according to WLTX 19, Columbia, S.C.’s CBS affiliate.

After the vote by the house subcommittee, SCSU released a statement on its website, in which the school promised to fight the legislation.

“SC State students, faculty, staff, alumni and supporters are to remain calm, as the proviso is simply a recommendation,” the statement read in part. “Several legislatives [sic] hurdles must be cleared before the proviso is enacted. The SC State University family is vowing to fight to kill the bill.”

SCSU President Thomas Elzey told WLTX 19, “I want to make one thing clear: South Carolina State University will not close.”

According to the Times and Democrat Newspaper in Orangeburg, S.C.—the city in which SCSU is located—the college’s financial woes go at least as far back as 2012, when Cynthia Warrick became interim president and inherited a deficit of already $6.4 million.

The House Higher Education and Technical College Subcommittee Chairman Jim Merrill, said the vote was the House’s way of expressing frustration at the school’s lack of a plan to address the budget shortfall, according to a report on FOX Carolina’s website.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has said she understands the legislator’s sentiment regarding the university’s pace in developing a plan to address its deficit, telling WCIV-TV, Charleston, S.C.’s ABC affiliate, “We have been waiting for months to get information from South Carolina State. We, in good faith, went and said ‘This is a historical school.’ Our auditors are still waiting, six months later for this information that South Carolina State hasn’t given. So I understand the frustration.”

Rondrea Mathis and he Rev. Herron K. Gaston, alumni of another HBCU Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post, calling on Gov. Haley and the legislature to reject the House subcommittee’s proposal. The recommended closure would cause the loss of SCSU’s academic accreditation, effectively killing the school, they argued.

“From the time of their founding to the present day, HBCUs continue to struggle for adequate attention, funding, resources, opportunities, and respect from their state governing bodies,” wrote Mathis and Gaston, adding later, “Closure would be a death knell for South Carolina State, and any legislator who believes differently is blinded by willful ignorance.”

ralejandro@afro.com