COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP, WLTX) - The South Carolina Legislative Black Caucus says the state's top accountant needs to apologize to the students and alumni of South Carolina State University for offensive comments.
Comptroller General Richard Eckstrom said Wednesday that South Carolina State can't rely on its students to bail out the university from its debt. He said students are going there because they can't get into other schools. That prompted loud groans from a standing-room-only crowd.
Here is the part of what he said:
"I'm committed to the university because it's a university, not because it's a historically black university. I think that the sooner this state gets away from the concept of talking about historically black universities is a step forward for this state. We no longer talk about historically white universities, and we had plenty of those through the years. And I think that we need to move beyond that point. I think we need to move to deal with the issues, the funding needs of South Carolina State, because it's an institute of higher learning in this state. It's servicing a student body that doesn't have the availability to bail the university out. These aren't kids that are coming from wealthy parents, from wealthy niches in the community. These are kids that are going there because they can't get into these other schools. And we're.. (is interrupted by mumuring and groans from people seated in room, someone says 'no, no') They can't afford it. They can't afford it. (more murmurs, one person says 'that's not true'.)"
His comments came before the Budget and Control Board on which Eckstrom sits approved loaning the school $6 million to help pay bills that began piling up in October. The school had sought a $13.6 million direct payment.
Eckstrom said he was making a point about students' ability to pay for services.
"I regret people taking offense and not understanding what my point was," Eckstrom said. "I don't run from my the comment that I made that many of those students can't afford going in and paying full rates. I went to the University of South Carolina. I had to pay for that upfront....in enrolling in classes, I had to write the check. That's not the practice at SC State...Many of those kids who can't afford to write the check up front can go to South Carolina State because South Carolina State is willing to work through that."
"Should I have chosen better words?" he said. "Maybe."
The caucus says the state's only public historically black university has a rich heritage and attracts students from all economic levels.
SC State President Thomas Elzey was asked by reporters about the remarks following the meeting. He said Eckstrom has always been a supporter of the school.
"The way he characterized it was just misunderstood," Elzey said. "What he was intending to say and what I think he was saying is that we have a large number of students who attend our university who are students who have great needs. A higher proportion of our student require needs based financial aid. We welcome those student to our school. We have always welcomed those students to our school, and we provide a nurturing environment to those students who attend our school. I think that's what he was trying to get at."