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Dick Harpootlian: South Carolina Board Must Postpone Vote On New President

“Irregularities abound …”

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by DICK HARPOOTLIAN || I am deeply troubled by the chaos and appearance of undue political influence surrounding tomorrow’s University of South Carolina board meeting.

But for the order of a circuit court, the board was prepared to violate state law to meet last week and push an applicant through.

The (Columbia, S.C.) State newspaper has reported that the same consulting firm hired by USC’s presidential search committee – Parker Executive Search – was involved in a search that resulted in sanctions for the University of Iowa. As appears to be the case here, that candidate also failed to meet minimum qualifications.

Other irregularities abound. After media reports that governor Henry McMaster contacted board members to press for a vote, the governor denied calling for the meeting.

Now, USC’s accrediting body – the Southern Association of Colleges and
Schools (SACS) – is investigating, which could result in the state’s flagship university losing its accreditation. Loss of accreditation would prohibit USC from receiving federal funds or its students from receiving federal student loans. Simply put, it would be the University’s death knell.

When the Senate returns, I look forward to supporting legislation (S. 798) sponsored by senate president Harvey Peeler (R-Cherokee) and senator Darrell Jackson (D-Richland), to reform the board. Based on the spectacle that has unfolded over the last two weeks, I am concerned that bill fails to go far enough. I intend to examine the propriety of allowing the State’s governor to sit ex officio on the USC board. Only one other state institution of higher learning guarantees the governor such power over its board and it is now apparent why that is a terrible idea for USC.

(Click to view)

(Via: The University of South Carolina)

This episode also heightens my concern over the board’s strategic decision making for USC on other matters, specifically the University’s unfettered construction that is encroaching on Columbia neighborhoods, exacerbating traffic, and producing no meaningful educational benefit for students.

Given the board’s inability to observe the most basic legal requirements pertaining to noticing a public meeting, I plan to rigorously scrutinize USC’s use of the state’s bonding power and will raise these concerns with the legislative Joint Bond Review Committee.

Finally, I want to make it clear, these concerns are not specific to general Robert Caslen, who I understand to have honorably served our nation in the United States Army.

The Army is an institution that has long valued honesty, the rule of law, and accountability. I hope Gen. Caslen appreciates the need for those values to control the outcome here.

Unfortunately, USC’s presidential search process has been anything but. The speed of this process, the lack of transparency, and the political pressure brought to bear raise enormous questions that warrant a significant pause before severe and permanent damage is done to the University.

Accordingly, I respectfully call on the board to postpone the selection of any
applicant tomorrow and return to an orderly, deliberate, and merit-based process to select USC’s next president.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

(Via: @Harpootlian4SC)

Dick Harpootlian is an attorney and former prosecutor who represents Richland and Lexington counties in the South Carolina Senate.

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