By: JL Carter Sr –
Students and alumni of South Carolina State University have created a grassroots campaign around their choice of the state’s only public historically Black college. The campaign, “I Chose SC State,” revolves around social networking accounts of why SCSU was the right individual choice for participants in the movement, and not the collective catchall for poor, under-prepared students as they believe they were classified in recent remarks by state comptroller general Richard Eckstrom.
“These aren’t kids coming from wealthy parents,” said Eckstrom. “These are kids going there because they can’t get into these other schools.”
There’s a lot of room for debate about whether Eckstrom’s comments were directed at the caliber of SCSU students, or their ability to afford college and to bolster the university’s dire financial standing. Given the context, I tend to side with the latter. Given the geography, I can see why most people would be inclined to go with the former.
But in either case, why is it that South Carolina State students, alumni and supporters state-wide are so quick to galvanize around comments, and not around the very serious crisis that is the university’s financial state? For years, SCSU has operated with one of the worst boards among all historically Black colleges and universities. It overspent, micromanaged presidents and university operations, and engaged in varying levels of nepotism, corruption, and ill service to its own students, faculty and staff, and most of all, the tax paying citizens of South Carolina.
Fortunately, the university has too much history, the state too much racial baggage, and the citizenry too much political will for the university to collapse under its own ineptitude. Gov. Nikki Haley this week reluctantly worked for the university to get a loan to satisfy its outstanding debts and to save the university from shuttering its doors; a shuttering that loomed over the school while alumni and students were relatively quiet about its pending peril.
When funding was cut to South Carolina State, no one started a Facebook page to object to the race-based inequitable funding. When the board was raging out of control and jeopardizing the university’s accreditation, there was no massive movement petitioning the governor to exorcise its executive demons. When former president George Cooper was fired and rehired and then resigned within a span of two years, no one was calling for investigators to figure out how a school was being mismanaged so poorly.
But if an old white guy says something about young Black people’s ability to get into other schools, apparently, its time to bring the 60′s back.
Constituents at South Carolina State have been passive on the very demise of their own institution. Students and alumni failed SCSU by not making their troubles a matter of public, national record. In many ways, South Carolina State broke the mold on HBCU turmoil before it became nationally trendy in 2013 and 2014. Between 2010 and 2012, SCSU trustees laid out the blueprint for how to malign a president, burn through money, anger students and alumni, invite media scrutiny and waste political muscle before other HBCU boards even knew how to effectively nail just one of the institutional plagues.
And yet, everyone who mattered most on the issue grumbled and complained while the school buckled under the increasing financial squeeze, drowned in the midst of political sharks circling and waiting for its demise, and failed under the inexplicably bad management of its own board.
So here we are; SCSU students and alumni again falling into the trap of focusing their attention on the wrong issues, wrong people, and wrong ways of supporting the university. Mass calls to Eckstrom’s aren’t better than checks to draw down on SCSU’s $13 million in debt. Convincing students to share why they chose SCSU over other institutions is not an enrollment management strategy. Facebook comments are not more effective than attending trustee meetings and demanding accountability from the university’s top executives.
Schooling Richard Eckstrom isn’t enough to keep South Carolina State University open for business. And apparently, neither is it own students and alumni.