S.C. State trustees opt not to renew president's contract

South Carolina State University's president, Andrew Hugine, served his last day Tuesday before the board of trustees voted him out.

Eleven board members who phoned in during a special teleconference meeting, voted 7-3-1 not to renew his contract, citing Hugine's 2006-2007 performance appraisal and his response to that review. A news release later said the decision also was based on an academic review of the university administered by the Education Commission of the States.

Details of those reviews were not immediately available.

Hugine has been placed on administrative leave immediately, and an interim president will be named, officials said. Whether it is a paid leave was unclear, as was whether there would be a severance arrangement offered.

When they called in, a couple of trustees questioned why the meeting was being held. One responded, "Isn't he turning in his resignation on Saturday?"

News of the decision did not sit well with Hugine supporters who were at the meeting on campus.

"This is the darkest day in South Carolina State's history," trustee Charles H. Williams II said in open session after the vote. "It is the most irresponsible act. We will all be accountable to how we vote, not to just the alumni, to the Legislature, community and the students of this university."

Trustees met in private for almost an hour to discuss Hugine's contract. None was on campus when the teleconference was held.

"I am shocked. I am dismayed. And if this board shall vote to do this, then I am ashamed to be a member of this board," Williams said before the vote was taken.

"I am not going to be a part of this lynching," trustee John Bowden said in the open session. "We don't need white people to lynch us anymore. We lynch each other. I am not going to be a part of that."

Bowden said he will resign on Hugine's last day. "I don't know how we got to where we are, but we are there."

Much of the tension at the school appears to have been between board chairman Maurice Washington and Hugine.

The strife has been played out recently in news reports in Orangeburg of e-mails between various board members, foretelling Hugine's demise, followed by "no comment" statements from board leaders.

Named university president in 2003, Hugine enjoyed support among alumni, arising partly from what he has been able to accomplish with the school's formerly troubled finances.

Hugine, a professor and assistant vice president for academic affairs at S.C. State, became president on a base $125,994-a-year salary, plus $25,000 in annual housing allowance and $25,000 in supplemental expenses.

In June 2006, the board voted unanimously to give him a $45,000-a-year raise, to $220,000 annually, and to extend his contract through 2011.

As recently as Tuesday, such alumni as U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., and state Sen. John Matthews, D-Orangeburg, voiced their support for Hugine's continued tenure, along with Charleston Sen. Robert Ford.

"I support Doctor Hugine," Matthews said after Tuesday's meeting. "I think he's done a good job for the university."

S.C. State on rise

In 2005, Clyburn and his wife, Emily, announced plans to establish a privately funded endowment, possibly topping $1.2 million.

That would be the largest gift in the school's 111-year history, and would add significantly to the $5 million its foundation manages, compared to the nearly $330 million in endowments the University of South Carolina held.

S.C. State reveled in one of its brightest moments in April, when it hosted the MSNBC network's Democratic presidential debate, which brought the school worldwide attention.

In June, the historically black university announced it would not increase the $7,278 tuition and fees for the year. Hugine said he recognized the state-supported school needed to be accessible and affordable in order to be effective.

Trouble of late

Hugine's tenure was not without its blemishes.

In March, Hugine and Washington were sued by Michelle English, then-vice president for advancement and the school foundation's executive director, for holding on to a $200,000 school check for nine months without turning it over to the school. The suit ultimately was dismissed.

Also in March, the university dismissed former men's basketball coach Jamal Brown, citing violation of the school's obligations under Title IX, which forbids discrimination and exclusion from activities in programs that receive federal money.

Some do not think such circumstances warranted Tuesday's action.

"I do not believe there was something so overwhelming to do this," said state Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg.