SC State president says university ‘in a better place’ after probe

The Times and Democrat of OrangeburgMay 18, 2013 

— Cynthia Warrick will step down as interim president of South Carolina State University at the end of May after an 11-month tenure beset by numerous challenges.

Elected by a divided board with a vote of 6-4, Warrick took office while the university was under the shadow of a federal investigation and an accrued operating deficit of $6.4 million.

In spite of the challenges, Warrick put some projects in place that she feels will move the university forward.

“I think the university is in a better place than it was when I got here,” she said.

‘I … lay foundations’

Warrick said that some of her favorite projects are just in the beginning stages, but she’s hopeful that incoming President Thomas Elzey will keep them in place.

“I had the opportunity to lay foundations,” she said. “(Elzey) will build the house.”

Warrick noted that dropping enrollment has been the main reason for budget deficits over the past few years and she’s revamped enrollment management in response.

She promoted Betty Boatwright to associate vice president for enrollment and established a more hands-on recruitment process with a greater emphasis on recruiting from technical colleges.

The number of applications is up, but the fruit of the enrollment office’s labor won’t be known for sure until next fall, she said.

The administration also created a committee to more efficiently promote and award available scholarships, she said. In addition, the administration is awarding scholarships in February instead of waiting until the summer.

“We felt we were missing out on the top students because we weren’t contacting them in a timely fashion,” she said.

The university has set aside funds for room and board scholarships for ROTC students.

“ROTC was one of those entities that had been left out in the past,” she said.

Renewing relationships

Warrick believes part of her job has been to promote the healing of the university.

To her, healing the university involved listening to all university community members and responding to their ideas, Warrick said. It meant building relationships between all stakeholders.

“When I look at the institution, I’m not looking just at South Carolina State,” she said. “I look at the whole community, the students, the alumni, the trustees, the legislators.

“All of those people are part of the stakeholders that make up this institution, and so you have to be able to listen and interact and communicate and find out how you can work best with all those groups in order to accomplish all your goals.”

She had conversations with members of the community who told her that “South Carolina State was very insular and did not like working with them.”

As a result of those conversations, she created the Office of Campus Relations to improve the university’s relationship with the community, Warrick said. Under the leadership of Kay Snider, it has sponsored events and programs to bring S.C. State and the community together.

Warrick said she has worked to renew relationships with businesses damaged during the turmoil on campus.

Some things a few people were doing at S.C. State, plus the ensuing media coverage, gave people the perception that the university was no longer doing its business of educating students, she said.

“What we had to do was come in and mend fences and build new relationships so that people would trust South Carolina State again,” she said. “We had to demonstrate to them that we were still doing what we were supposed to do academically, financially, community-wise, in terms of communication, in athletics and in all our other extracurricular” activities.

Closing the money gap

Warrick says she believes the biggest issue that needs to be addressed at the university is raising funds to keep students in school.

“There is about a $4,000 gap for most students after federal aid has been applied,” she said. The university found funds for 300 to 400 students, but another 700 were unable to come to school because the funds weren’t available, Warrick said.

“We’ve got to figure out how to get them funded so they can stay in school and graduate,” she said.

Warrick says her advice to Elzey is to listen to the entire university family before making decisions. This is how she built relationships and learned about the needs of the university, Warrick said.

Students and alumni supported her strongly during the presidential search, but Warrick failed to make the three finalists. This is what happens in higher education, she said.

“The board gets to choose who they want,” she said. “They hire the president, and the majority of the board decided they wanted to go in a different direction.

“I don’t have any ill feelings about it because I understand.”

Warrick said she has made no plans for the immediate future.

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