How to hamstring a watchdog

June 9, 2017

Inside Insight

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Legislature cripples higher ed commission


The state’s higher education sector keeps growing, in no small part by borrowing to expand and taking on debt that ultimately puts every taxpayer on the hook. No matter the merits of funding education, there ought to be oversight and accountability here.

That role is vested in the Commission on Higher Education. Yet the CHE has said it has insufficient resources to fulfill all the 160 duties outlined in state code. In recent years, it’s been less than thorough in vetting new university projects. However, this past year, it’s done a noticeably better job of acting as the gatekeeper for such spending.

According to information provided by CHE, in the past 10 years, the state’s public universities have funded over $3.7 billion in capital projects. Until last year, CHE had never rejected a capital project request.

Then Clemson submitted a $62.5 million Football Operations Center plan with only $1.5 million coming from private donors. CHE questioned the university, and the school returned with a revised plan of $55 million, with $35.5 million from private funding.

USC also submitted for approval a Football Operations Center project of $50 million with $3 million in private money. CHE again pushed back, and the university guaranteed $14 million from future gifts.

As The Nerve reported last year, Coastal Carolina switched football conferences and so was required to have a higher-capacity stadium. To cover the cost of construction, the school wanted to issue bonds. CHE found this fiscally unsound, as Coastal Carolina lacked the means to repay the debt. Its request for bonds was rejected four times by CHE. At that point, Coastal Carolina skirted CHE and lobbied the legislature. The skirting resulted in a budget proviso that permitted the university to expand its stadium with state dollars.

In the wake of Coastal Carolina’s circumvention of CHE, a proviso was passed for this year’s budget, on Tuesday. It takes away some oversight authority from CHE by suspending its comments and recommendations on any auxiliary, athletic, maintenance, and renovation or permanent improvement projects. Instead, these requests will go for approval through the Executive Budget Office, Joint Bond Review Committee, and State Fiscal Accountability Authority, cutting CHE out of the process.

There was considerable confusion during the Senate’s debate on that proviso, over exactly which projects it would apply to. Many House members had explained it as affecting only non-academic proposals. However, as multiple senators noted, the language of the proviso is broad and could be interpreted to pertain to projects other than athletic ones, such as the renovation of the old USC Law School building.

What’s maddening about this whole chain of events is the brazenness of the legislature in removing accountability and bowing to higher education lobbying. As tuition costs continue to rise and schools create more and more projects to fund, there’s no more crucial time than now to scrutinize how necessary all this borrowing is and whether it’s financially viable. How can CHE do that if it’s cut off at the knees?

Nerve stories are always free to reprint and repost. We only ask that you credit The Nerve.
  • Philip Branton

    Hmm……what is observed from this stated brazen accountability flank, is the fact that these Legislative personnel and civil servants fail to realize how traceable all this is back to them in a court of law. Civil Servants in the state house had better perk up. Maybe everyone needs to do a little homework in the Statehouse concerning the “Fat Leonard” accountability trail. Yes, the front page and stories will cover an Admiral but its the hundreds of civil servant support personnel that will be sizzled for allowing such frivolous activity to begin with. You mean that no civil servants knew about the billion in tax incentives to Boeing before the deal was announced..? No lobby firm secretaries..? So, who do the personnel in our university finance offices talk to at the Statehouse..?
    The silence in this comment section is deafening from the Gervais choir.
    As for the CHE….. “Yet the CHE has said it has insufficient resources to fulfill all the 160 duties outlined in state code…”
    We highly suggest the fine workers and servants at the CHE figure out a way to call some professors at our universities about some intern positions as a part of their graduation curriculum. Solicitor Pascoe may have to call some the CHE personnel to a witness stand for lack of fiduciary informational awareness action .
    This oversight accountability action is absurd to taxpayers..!

  • Philip Branton

    Finally, at this time I would like to speak to a very valuable set of people in our state supported summer school classes. Yep, the handful of you students who failed journalism 101 or 102 or 201 and are reading this in the back if your class right now. If you had not failed your previous semester classes, you would not be blessed to be in the summer school class and reading this right now. So, put a big smile on your face. Now, look at your professor. Is he or she teaching you anything about this website? If they are not, you may want to bring them a nice “ham” sandwich on Monday and ask them to read this article and comment section from your phone out loud in class. You will be a hero…… I guarantee it. The professor may frown and roll their eyes… but.. when you start giving them homework every time they assign you journalism homework, your going to suddenly realize that your tuition pays their salary and that they work for YOU. Do you know how to use a journalism professor via this website..? A “Hamstring” can be used a lot like a clothes line. Question is…. How does a journalism student hand out certain laundry on a website clothes line for Solicitor Pascoe to use in a Grand Jury..?

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