Throwback Thursday: Lawmakers, higher ed institutions violate state oversight law

August 1, 2019

Inside Insight

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University of South Carolina

At a Joint Bond Review Committee (JBRC) meeting this week, several universities and one tech school openly violated a state law requiring colleges and universities to get the Commission on Higher Education’s (CHE) approval for proposed permanent improvement projects before going before the JBRC with their requests.

Lawmakers overlooked that legal requirement for two of those institutions: the University of South Carolina and Horry-Georgetown Technical College. In the case of UofSC, the spokesman (a former Senate Finance Committee staffer) claimed to have spoken with CHE chairman (and former Senator) Wes Hayes and gotten agreement to “to allow us to work around this oddity in the calendar.”

This attack on the CHE’s statutory oversight power is nothing new. The CHE is the only entity in state government specifically tasked with supervising higher education from a statewide perspective, and – incidentally – is also the only entity that has given any sort of pushback to major university spending projects.

Accordingly, the CHE has been the subject of numerous legislative attempts to strip its oversight powers over capital projects. This week’s throwback details those various attempts (both budget provisos and bills) in an analysis of 2017 legislation designed to allow universities to bypass nearly all state oversight. Unfortunately, similar legislation was filed this session as well and passed out of the Senate Finance Committee earlier this year.

University Enterprise Divisions: Vehicles for Dodging Accountability

A pair of bills filed last year would allow the creation of powerful mini-governments within public colleges and universities. These entities would function similarly to shell corporations by allowing universities to bypass state oversight for bonding, construction and even the exercise of eminent domain.

This legislation – H.4182 (and its Senate companion, S.542)– is specifically designed to allow colleges and universities to avoid the financial oversight of the Commission on Higher Education, which in recent years has begun exercising its authority to oppose higher education spending decisions.

This bill was featured in Best and Worst of the General Assembly 2017.It was filed late in the session and did not receive a committee hearing this year, but could pass next yearA similar bill filed in 2013 passed both the House and Senate and died in conference committee.

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