The Daily Gamecock

Column: New House bill would fix 'dumpster fire' board of trustees

<p>Speaker of the House, Jay Lucas, conducts vote to get the H. 5198 bill presented to the house floor during a meeting on April 5, 2022. &nbsp;The SC House of Representatives passed bill&nbsp;H. 5198, which would restructure the USC board of trustees.</p>
Speaker of the House, Jay Lucas, conducts vote to get the H. 5198 bill presented to the house floor during a meeting on April 5, 2022.  The SC House of Representatives passed bill H. 5198, which would restructure the USC board of trustees.

The S.C. legislature's current attempt to reform USC's board of trustees will hopefully give the university a fresh start after multiple upsets. 

The House passed bill H. 5198 on April 6. The bill would shrink the board from 20 members to 13 and force all current members to reapply through the legislative screening process. The board is the university's highest governing body, other than the General Assembly itself.

H. 5198 sped through the House 113-1 and is now in the Senate Education Committee, which is scheduled to meet on April 20. 

If passed, the bill would remake the board's voting members to include one member elected by the legislature from each of the state's seven congressional districts, two members appointed by the governor and the four others who would have to live in areas with USC satellite campuses. 

The board would elect a chairperson who could serve no longer than two-year terms and can't serve more than two terms as chairperson. The bill would also change how the board calls special meetings. 

The Senate Education Committee is also looking at three similar senate bills: S. 74, which addresses the election of board members, S. 813, which relates to the shrinking of board members and S. 1242, which addresses the board chairperson's election and term limit.

These bills come after the board of trustees caused three years of messiness and upset, starting with the election of former university President Robert Caslen. There were ethical issues from the start of the election process and didn't have the backing of students. 

"(The board) conceded that they sent a committee, not the selection committee, but the ad hoc committee, everyone got on an airplane, flew down and interviewed Caslen without telling the rest of the board," state senator Richard "Dick" Harpootlian (D-Richland) said. "And it was not a merit selection, it was apparently a political hire." 

Many students were unhappy with Caslen as the choice of president. His comments that reducing binge drinking could lessen sexual assault didn't sit well, and students were also concerned about his lack of a terminal degree and experience at a school like USC. 

The way Caslen quit also left the university ashamed, with his plagiarized speech and his remarks of "this place sucks so bad."

The board is also under fire with legislators about how much it spent on firing coaches. The board paid almost $20 million to fire high-profile coaches Frank Martin and Will Muschamp and buy out their contracts. 

USC is also at risk of losing significant donations from major donors Lou Kennedy and Darla Moore because of the board's behavior. 

All of this has led to an unhappy Statehouse that is seemingly looking for a complete change. Representative Kirkman Finlay III (R-Columbia) said "I don't think anyone has been comfortable with the results of the past two or years," in reporting done by The Post and Courier

In a separate article, Speaker of the House Jay Lucas said 'It's no secret that the current USC board's dysfunctionality has been a disaster for far too long.' 

Harpootlian said he wants people to understand why they're trying to restructure the board of trustees: "The USC board is a dumpster fire."

The Daily Gamecock's repeated efforts to reach numerous members of the House of Representatives were unsuccessful. Attempts to get a comment from student body president Reedy Newton prior to publication were also unsuccessful.

"All I can really share is that under state statute the composition of the university's Board of Trustees is the purview of the general assembly," university spokesperson Jeff Stensland said in an email to The Daily Gamecock.  

The original H.5198 bill never had a seat for faculty or student voting member. The revised bill merely says it's the duty of a faculty member to attend meetings at the board's request.

The revised bill should have room for a voting faculty and student member since they are the ones who have insight into campus, which in theory should help the board understand the problems of the university better. Representation is also extremely important to faculty members. 

"Obviously, I think it's enormously important for there to be faculty representation, I think it's important for there to be student representation," Carol Harrison, president of the USC American Association of University Professors chapter, said. "So I hope that our legislature will pursue that carefully as they discuss this bill." 

This new bill will hopefully clear up some of the mess and rehire a new board that focuses on education and making the university, as a whole, better, not spending money that would have gone to professors and classrooms to hopefully win more athletic games, according to Harpootlian. 

We will not get these changes with the current board members, according to Harpootlian.  

"Maybe they will get reelected. I hope not," Harpootlian said. "I hope they don't come out of the screening committee."

H. 5198 is a fresh start for the university. It would provide a clean state and hopefully some distance from the past embarrassments. 

We want a board that will hopefully represent the state with representation from the congressional districts that will mirror the university's diversity and that cares about the students well being.

We need a board that will do right by us. Hopefully, a new structure will encourage fresh ideas and a desire to represent the university in the right way. This bill will help do just that.  

All members of the South Carolina House of Representatives members that sponsored the H.5198 bill and all Senator members on the S.74, S.813 and S.1214 were contacted and did not respond to The Daily Gamecocks' request for comment.