S.C. State president says his dismissal was unjust

Andrew Hugine, voted out as South Carolina State University's president, said Wednesday his termination by the board was unjust.

Today, trustees could name an interim president to fill his role.

The university's 13-member board fired Hugine in a hastily arranged teleconference late Tuesday, citing Hugine's latest performance evaluation and a May academic review of the institution. Specifics of those reviews have not been released.

A 30-year employee of the school, Hugine told The State newspaper he is considering legal action against the board.

"When you have personnel actions of this sort, all options must be on the table," he said.

The abrupt announcement of Hugine's dismissal touched off a firestorm of criticism, aimed at the board, that some say will not be easily quelled.

"People who care about the university ought to be mad as hell," said 22-year board member Charles H. Williams, of Orangeburg. "I know I am."

Williams said he will tender his resignation from the board to the Legislature when it reconvenes Jan. 8. He would become the second university trustee to leave over the firing.

At-large board member John T. Bowden, of Orangeburg, said Tuesday he would quit the board.

Williams and others said a majority of the board informally decided months ago to sack Hugine. That effort was highlighted by a written agreement dating back to August and designed to force his resignation.

Letters obtained by The State indicate that in late October, board chairman Maurice Washington asked Hugine for dates and an outline that would detail his intentions to step down.

One letter also asks Hugine to stop trying to fill the president's cabinet and tenured faculty positions, "As the Chair views the end of our tenure as President imminent."

The letter said Hugine was "puzzled" by the possibility but would be willing to consider retiring if the board agreed to discuss their concerns about his leadership and if they could come to a mutual agreement about his retirement.

The response?

"While the Board would like to resolve this matter amicably, there are members who believe that new leadership is more important to the University than an unproductive peace," a letter stated.

Despite the board's explanation, the question troubling alumni, supporters and even casual observers remains why was Hugine really fired?

Williams said he hopes state legislators will ask that question, too, and make wholesale changes on the board.

Describing the board as "renegade," Williams said, "If you don't hold the board accountable for this, there is no telling what other actions they will take. You have an out-of-control board running a state university."

The board is composed of 12 members elected by the Legislature and one appointed by the governor. Each serves a six-year term.

Trustees voted 7-3-1 not to renew Hugine's contract Tuesday and placed him on administrative leave, effective immediately. The board did not say whether that leave is with pay.

Those voting for the ouster included- board chairman Maurice Washington, of Charleston; Earl Bridges, of Spartanburg; Lumus Bryd, of Clinton; Schylver Foster, of Greer; Frederick Gallant, of Irmo; Shirley Portee Martin, of Goose Creek; and Martha Scott Smith, of Columbia.

Jonathan Pinson, Bowden and Williams voted against.

Efforts Wednesday to reach a majority of the trustees were unsuccessful.

Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, an S.C. State alumnus noting that the board's conflict with each of its past four president's has led to their early dismissals also called on the Legislature to act.

"Based on the board's explanation for the termination .Ê.Ê. nothing warrants the action the board took," Govan said.

"Nothing (on Hugine's part) was so extensive for the board to jeopardize the stability of the institution and the good will that has been established over the past five years in Columbia, in Washington, D.C., and around the world."

That good will has been expressed by increased alumni giving and increased student enrollment, Govan said.

University seniors Kari James and LaTia Richardson, of Marion, said that while there are things that could be improved, they have noticed a number of changes. They noted students' behavior and attitude, new dormitories and the positive exposure from the Democratic presidential debate in the spring.

"You have to start somewhere," Richardson said.

The firing of Hugine, who was a tenured professor at the school prior to being named in 2003 to succeed Leroy Davis, comes days ahead of the university's winter commencement exercises, slated for Saturday.

"This is utterly ridiculous," said Nathaniel Abraham, who attended S.C. State from 1960 to 1963. He complained that trustees failed to justify the firing. "I don't know why the board would make that decision when every segment of the university is against it. This is going to upset the college community. There is no guarantee that anything good will come of it."

U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-Columbia, an alumnus, also lamented the firing, calling the board's actions "tantamount to a child throwing its candy in the sand."

Clyburn, who recently spent two weeks in New York City coaxing foundations to take a look at S.C. State in a bid to increase the school's low endowment, said the board's action will hurt because it signals instability at the university, which has nearly 5,000 students.

"That's a problem," he said. However, "It will not impair my willingness to help the university. My commitment is to my alma mater."

News of the trustees' decision did not stop day-to-day happenings on campus. Students were taking final exams and trying to sell textbooks, while others sat around enjoying the summer-like weather.

Those who had heard were unsure of the details.

"I don't know what this really means," said Ryan White, a junior from Irmo, who learned about the ouster from classmates who began calling him Wednesday morning. "We really aren't sure of the background story."

Brande Hicks, a freshman from Nebraska, was less cautious. "That is insane," she said.

Aprielle James, a Florence freshman, also was left with questions.

"I want to know what he did for them to just fire him like that?"

Reach Burris at (803) 771-8398. Reach Jackson at (803)771-8512.

AP-NY-12-12-07 2255EST