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SC Higher Ed Battle Boils Over

Commission chairman issues list of demands to powerful Senate president …

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The chairman of South Carolina’s Commission on Higher Education (SCCHE) has submitted a list of demands to the most powerful politician in the Palmetto State – and threatened to sue him for libel if he fails to comply.

SCCHE chairman Tim Hofferth sent a letter to S.C. Senate president Hugh Leatherman on Monday giving him forty-eight hours to retract allegedly defamatory remarks directed at him – and to issue a public apology.

“I will not stand idly by (and) let you make false and defamatory statements that ruin, in one day, the sterling reputation for honesty and integrity that I have worked hard to build over my entire lifetime,” Hofferth wrote in his letter (.pdf) to Leatherman.

What in the world is going on?

Leatherman is angry that Hofferth authorized his agency’s executive director – Jeff Schilz – to receive a $91,487 salary increase earlier this year.  This ostensibly extra-legal 54 percent pay hike was slammed by the powerful legislative leader on social media – and it a letter to the SCCHE chairman.

In Leatherman’s letter to Hofferth, he accused him breaking the law in approving the pay raise – and called on him to resign.

“I must interpret by your actions that you feel you are above the law and illegally authorized these payments,” Leatherman wrote. “I believe any chairman or agency director who so blatantly flaunts the law should immediately resign and let someone who can abide by the laws of the State of South Carolina take the reins.”

Not only is Hofferth not resigning, he is taking the fight to the powerful Senate leader.

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According to Hofferth, Leatherman’s claims are “utterly and willfully false, misleading and slanderous.”

“Your loathsome and despicable attempt to slander and defame me with these false and ridiculous allegations are not only contemptible, but your conduct has also caused and will continue to cause irreparable harm to me and my reputation,” Hofferth continued.

Hofferth’s agency claimed the salary increase awarded to Schilz was authorized by the S.C. Agency Head Salary Commission – which, ironically, is chaired by Leatherman.

“In requesting our President’s salary, I complied with S.C. Code Section 8-11-160 by relying on the attached memo that you authored, outlining the salary range approved for the CHE and relying on the advice of our Human Resources contact at the S.C. Department of Administration (DOA),” Hofferth wrote in a letter to Leatherman over the weekend.

Here is a copy of the memo (.pdf) referenced by Hofferth in his letter to Leatherman.

“Had you, or your staff, extended me the courtesy of asking about this matter, prior to jumping to conclusions and resorting to character attacks, I would have gladly explained our position,” Hofferth added.

This news outlet has praised the SCCHE in recent months for drawing attention to astronomical increases in higher education tuition (and higher education debt).  Under the leadership of Hofferth and Schilz, the agency has done an excellent job of exposing waste and inefficiency within this government-run behemoth – which we have consistently argued is performing functions that ought to be exclusively entrusted to the private sector.

We hope the SCCHE will continue in this important work.

Having said that, the approval of such an astronomical salary hike – whether it was authorized or not – strikes us as an exceedingly tone deaf move on the part of this agency.  Moreover, Hofferth’s shrill response to Leatherman’s letter strikes us as a case of a man who doth protest too much.

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