While declining student enrollment and a projected deficit at South Carolina State University might seem like major problems, it's not stopping the university from planning to sidetrack much-needed tax dollars and tuition money into the never-ending quest to build a discredited facility named after Congressman Jim Clyburn.
Efforts to build the university's James E. Clyburn University Transportation Center have been dogged by a number of audits, spiraling construction costs, funding shortfalls and the loss of federal recognition for the facility. In spite of these problems, the college administration is proposing to allocate $1.6 million in their budget for the fiscal year 2012-2013 towards building the center, even though the university does not expect to begin during this fiscal year.
Last year, the Center was hit by a Legislative Audit Council report which found the tens of millions of dollars missing, reported "duplicate billings, insufficient state matching funds and questionable payments" of amounts sometimes in the six-figure range and resulted in some expenses being referred to SLED for investigation of abuses by individual employees of the center. It also showed the construction of the center, which lost its federal University Transportation Center status, was plagued with mismanagement.
Not only is the center named after the Congressman, one it's better-known alumni, one of the proposed buildings will be named after his wife Emily, leaving us wondering how many other Clyburn relatives will have their names gracing parts of the Center - if it is ever completed.
The university has proposed diverting funds from tuition and lottery allocations in the hopes of qualifying for three million dollars in matching funds to go towards eventual construction of the center - a drop in the bucket for the estimated $107 million that the school has no plans or means to provide. Given the ongoing questions about budgeting and management of the Center and the university as a whole, it's worth asking if it's a good idea to leave that much money sitting there on a figurative shelf, waiting to be sidetracked for another project - or into someone's pocket.
Board member Maurice Washington seems to be a voice of reason, calling for the money to be put back into academic services for students. This move seems to be a wiser use of funding than a center that - if it's ever completed - seems to be intended as more of a monument to the Clyburn family than an actual research center. As the school faces an estimated shortfall of $6 million and declining enrollment, it seems Washington has a more responsible idea than fueling a boondoggle that is further undermining the school's credibility.
Given the numerous recent and ongoing issues, it's hard to understand how the university has been able to avoid a major house cleaning by the Governor and the General Assembly.