SC House leaders back bill to remove governor as USC trustee

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Some of the most powerful leaders in the South Carolina House, including Speaker Jay Lucas, are supporting a new bill that would remove the governor from the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees.

The bill, filed Thursday, also would remove the state education superintendent's seat on the board and reduce the total number of trustees from 21 to 12.

The proposal also would end the terms of all current trustees by the end of June 2021.

Along with the Republican Lucas, the bill is sponsored by House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford, a Columbia Democrat, and Rep. Murrell Smith, the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Lucas' counterpart at the Statehouse, Senate President Harvey Peeler, also wants to shake up the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees. His bill would reduce the number of trustees to 11 and end the terms of all current trustees in June, although the governor would stay on the board.

Both bills would allow lawmakers to elect one trustee from each of the state's seven U.S. House districts to make up the majority of the board. Currently, a trustee is picked from each of the state's 16 judicial districts.

The governor would maintain some sway over the board. Lucas' bill would give the governor two seats to fill with appointees, while Peeler's bill maintains the governor's one at-large seat.

The bills come months after the University of South Carolina's divisive search for a new president. After choosing four finalists, trustees voted in April to reopen the search. Then months later, Gov. Henry McMaster started pushing trustees to select retired Army Gen. Bob Caslen, who was one of the finalists.

Faculty and student groups protested, saying Caslen wasn't experienced enough, made a poor impression during a campus visit and was part of a search that was flawed from the start.

Trustees voted 11-8 to hire Caslen. The previous two presidential searches had finished with unanimous votes.

A spokesman for Lucas said the bill isn't a swipe at McMaster or a knee-jerk reaction to the recent presidential search.

“This bill is not about one single trustee, group of trustees, decision or event. Instead, this bill seeks to fix a structure and a system that has become antiquated,” Lucas spokesman Patrick Dennis said in a statement.

McMaster is watching all the bills and is willing to work with lawmakers, spokesman Brian Symmes said in a statement.

“The governor will keep a close eye on them and work with leadership in the House and the Senate to make sure that if changes are made, they’re made only with the best interest of the university in mind,” Symmes said.

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