Not What You Ordered?

April 24, 2014

Inside Insight

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ariail no oversight
NO OVERSIGHT – EXCEPT WHEN IT AFFECTS THE OVERSEERS

Does anyone outside the State House think legislators should choose a university president? I doubt most people know that’s essentially what happens in our state, at least when it suits the legislature to do so. Like most functions of South Carolina state government, lawmakers in Columbia have ultimate authority over the governance of state universities because they elect the trustees who govern them.

State-funded schools certainly need some oversight and accountability, but that is precisely what the legislature doesn’t provide. For years these schools have been raising tuition at a dizzying pace, duplicating low-demand programs, and vastly expanding their facilities in an irresponsible effort to “compete” against each other for prestige. And the legislature has done nothing to stop it. In 2010, when the College of Charleston raised tuition by 14.8 percent in a single year, it took the Budget and Control Board to threaten a moratorium on new construction to get the school to reduce that increase to 7 percent. The legislature itself did nothing.

But when it comes to something legislative leaders really care about – finding a swanky post for their friend and erstwhile colleague – they’re willing to micromanage the schools to the point of coercion. Lawmakers apparently couldn’t care less that state colleges are effectively pricing taxpayers out of the higher education market – many South Carolinians who’ve worked hard and paid state taxes all their lives can’t even begin to afford tuition and board at schools like C of C, particularly if their child doesn’t get a slew of scholarships. That’s no big deal to them, and when a few lawmakers have introduced legislation to bring some modest level of governance to the schools by creating a Board of Regents, they’ve ignored it.

Ah, but if the former Senate President Pro Tem wants the job of College of Charleston’s president – no matter how apparently ill-suited to the job – they’ll move heaven and earth to make it happen. Indeed, as a report in the Post and Courier indicated, when one member of the school’s Board of Trustees showed lackluster support for Glenn McConnell, the General Assembly gave him the boot.

Oh sure, if a state school requires students to read a gay-themed book, some lawmakers are happy to raise a ruckus and try to withhold a few hundred thousand dollars from the schools’ multi-million dollar yearly appropriation. Whether state-funded schools should have required such a book may be a topic worth debating, but don’t be misled: Lawmakers aren’t serious about reining in state schools’ abuses of taxpayers until the career ambitions of one of their own are on the line.

Students and faculty at the College of Charleston are now realizing the brutal truth about South Carolina state government. That truth is this: When state agencies ride roughshod over taxpayers, lawmakers simply aren’t concerned. But when an issue affects one of their buddies, they’ll do whatever it takes to achieve their aim.