COLUMBIA — Gov. Nikki Haley urged South Carolina State University trustees Friday to build trust and accountability at the beleaguered college, struggling to overcome a $6 million budget deficit, falling enrollment and a fraud scandal.
Taking the unusual step of calling together a college board to hear its concerns directly, Haley said the state’s only public historically black university needs to share a game plan soon with the public.
“You can’t keep going the way you have been going,” Haley, an ex-officio member of the Orangeburg university’s board, said during a meeting on the Statehouse grounds.
Haley noted a rift on the S.C. State board, including over whether to hire interim president Cynthia Warrick permanently and forgo a national search. Trustees voted 6-5 to continue that search last month. A new president is expected to be named in a month and start work by July, trustees chairman Walter Tobin said.
But, trustee Patricia Lott said, “If we’re divided, it’s difficult to come up with a solid, good leader.”
Trustees said they are tired of playing of what one called “catch and clean up” with new presidents. Trustee John Corbitt said he has worked under seven administrations in 12 years on the board.
Four S.C. State trustees have left in the past year, including former chairman Jonathan Pinson, who was indicted this year on fraud charges related to the school.
In the wake of S.C. State’s woes, lawmakers have introduced bills to replace some or all of the university’s trustees.
Current board members said they were unaware of Pinson’s activities and not always informed of other problems at the Orangeburg college.
“People think we’re all crooks and crazy,” Corbitt said. “That’s wrong. This is a board of integrity.”
After Friday’s meeting, Corbitt said he felt like the board had been called to the principal’s office. But, he added, “I appreciate (Haley) for doing that.”
Haley told the trustees that she thinks they have a passion to help S.C. State.
“But, at some point, you have to just put (differences) aside,” she said. “If there was ever a time for you all to step up, it’s now. And I’ve got you back, but you have to make some hard decisions.”
Despite disagreements among the trustees, the board promised to turn around the school.
“We’re not going to come out of here and sing ‘Kumbaya,’ ” trustee Tony Grant said. “But we recognize our challenges, and we recognize our issues.
“At the end of the day, we haven’t lost our minds.”