Vote of Closure for SC State: A Warning Shot for the Ages

South Carolina State University will find it nearly impossible to recover from Tuesday's vote by the South Carolina House Ways and Means Subcommittee to close the university for one year while all leadership and students are swept out of its doors.
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South Carolina State University will find it nearly impossible to recover from Tuesday's vote by the South Carolina House Ways and Means Subcommittee to close the university for one year while all leadership and students are swept out of its doors.

In the span of about two hours, that vote has spurred scrutiny from the school's accrediting body, likely sunk the university's credit rating, convinced potential students to apply elsewhere, and given alumni a sense of lost hope, never to be regained.

So even if the South Carolina legislature overwhelmingly votes down the measure, which is unlikely to happen given Gov. Nikki Haley's view on the school, you can bet that the work of a few hours will likely end nearly 120 years of black history and empowerment in the state. From WLTX in South Carolina:

"The governor certainly understands the frustrations of the House Committee," said Cheney Adams, a spokeswoman for Governor Nikki Haley. "SC State's leadership has been unable to provide straight answers on the condition of the schools finances for months, something she finds totally unacceptable."

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges President Belle Wheelan says that if the measure passes, SCSU would instantly lose its accreditation by way of the unprecedented legislative action.

"We don't accredit institutions that are not in business," Dr. Wheelan said.

Dr. Wheelan, who personally provided counsel to the board last September, said that the university is scheduled to submit a report on its progress in April, and is expected to receive action from the SACSCOC board in June. That action could either keep SCSU on probation for another year for satisfactory progress, remove probation, or revoke accreditation altogether.

"Irrespective of what the subcommittee has done today, South Carolina State remains accredited and on our agenda for June," she said.

There are some public HBCU boards which have weathered corrupt board dealings -- Southern University and Alabama State University are two which come to recent memory. And some HBCU boards are so driven by political loyalties that their campuses have or currently suffer under inept leadership -- see Norfolk State University and Morgan State University.

But South Carolina State has been, going back more than five years, a volatile mix of self-interest, meddling and political jockeying and overall shadiness -- all which have led to the unceremonious beginning of the end for one of the nation's great black colleges. This combined, with increasing cuts from state and federal legislature to SCSU and public colleges nationwide, only expedited the institutional suicide attempt.

And while all of the aforementioned boards aren't in the same financial straits as SCSU, they should be increasingly uneasy at the prospect of any Republican leadership feeling empowered to take drastic action against public HBCUs in the name of austerity and efficiency. It only takes one bad precedent to create a bad harvest for the the entire community of HBCUs -- Grambling State, Cheyney, Elizabeth City State, and Southern are not far off from a similar fate without strong leadership, and strong advocacy from students and alumni.

HBCU students and alumni can no longer expect for states to "do the right thing" by our schools. In fact, in some southern states, it is doing the wrong thing by HBCUs which makes for good economic and social policy. Until we realize that, until we all become active participants in the national HBCU community, today's efforts will be the blueprint of closure for many struggling HBCUs which deserve more state support, but suffer from a lack of advocacy to balance the anti-HBCU sentiments which is growing within many state governments around the country.

What is needed now for South Carolina State is immediate, strong leadership beginning with its president. Regardless of who the board would seek to install in 2017, the school would require instant stardom in the office of the president to reinvigorate alumni, to win friends and allies in state legislature, and to recruit a new caliber of student to help in building the brand of a new SCSU.

Fortunately, there is such a person with the pedigree and experience in land-grant leadership, and legislative savvy smoothed out by rough southern racial and economic politics. There is a person with youth, with faculty experience, and with HBCU acumen shaped in public and private sectors.

That person is M. Christopher Brown II, former Alcorn State University president and alumnus of South Carolina State University.

If the state wants to keep SCSU, and the impact it yields for the state and the region, it would be wise to keep the school's doors unlocked just long enough to find an alumni directory and to find Dr. Brown.

Or, it can lock the doors and open the period of mourning for one of the nation's true historic and educational jewels.

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