The Unsettling Truth

August 12, 2019


If you are a white man, you have an excellent chance of being elected/appointed to a governing board at one of South Carolina’s 10 public universities. If you are a woman, however, don’t get your hopes up.

Here are the unsettling numbers, as compiled last month by the governing boards of South Carolina’s public universities are 75.8 percent male and 84.5 percent white. None of the trustees is of Latino, Asian, or Native American ethnicity.

The University of South Carolina’s governing board, which has been in the news of late because of the controversy surrounding the choosing of its new president, is 95 percent white and 86 percent male. The new president, Robert Caslen, is white and male; he took over on Aug. 1.

USC has the lowest percentage of women serving as trustees on the state’s public university boards and the second-lowest percentage of African Americans, according to the survey.

It’s crucial of course, to have diversity on the boards that govern our public colleges and universities. Women and minorities have different life experiences and different perspectives, and they bring those divergent experiences and perspectives to the boards on which they serve.

It’s not just our public colleges and universities that need the input of women and minorities. S.C. Women in Leadership (SC WIL) has determined that there are more than 700 boards and commissions of all types in South Carolina that currently have vacancies. Many of these positions are appointive. One need only apply and have the necessary background in order to be considered.

Most trustees of South Carolina’s public colleges and universities, however, are elected by the S.C. General Assembly. (The governor and alumni also make a few appointments.) But here is the rub: Since the S.C. legislature is mostly white and mostly male, guess which demographic is usually elected to the universities’ governing boards? Bingo.

Now there is a move afoot to revamp the way trustees are elected to USC’s Board of Trustees. There will be a hearing on Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 10 a.m. in Room 308 of the Gressette Building in Columbia to discuss a bill (S798) that would reduce the size of the board and the areas from which they are selected, revise certain powers of the board, and elect new members for staggered terms beginning July 1, 2020.

Individuals can speak at the hearing but remarks will be limited to three minutes apiece.

Time for a trip to the Gressette Building?

Jan Collins 2021-circle-crop

Jan Collins is a Columbia, South Carolina-based journalist, editor, and author. A former Nieman Fellow at Harvard and former Congressional Fellow in Washington, D. C., she is the coauthor of Next Steps: A Practical Guide to Planning for the Best Half of Your Life (Quill Driver Books, 2009).

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