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S.C. State, former president settle lawsuit

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By Ashley Heffernan
aheffernan@scbiznews.com
Published Aug. 27, 2015

S.C. State University will pay former President Thomas Elzey more than $300,000 to settle a lawsuit he filed earlier this year.

Elzey was fired by the Orangeburg university’s previous board of trustees on March 16. He then filed a lawsuit against the university and its trustees saying there was no just cause for his termination and he was owed unpaid wages.

S.C. State University has reached a settlement with former President Thomas Elzey, who filed a lawsuit against the school after he was fired as president in March. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)S.C. State University has reached a settlement with former President Thomas Elzey, who filed a lawsuit against the school after he was fired as president in March. (Photo/Ashley Heffernan)

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Two months later, state lawmakers removed the trustees and created a new interim board, which is now managing the school along with interim President W. Franklin Evans.

The interim board, chaired by Charleston businessman Charles S. Way Jr., met Wednesday. Way issued a statement afterward saying S.C. State agreed to pay Elzey $312,500 plus $20,000 in legal fees to settle the suit.

“In making this decision, we are not passing judgment on the parties or the circumstances that led to the lawsuit, i.e., Thomas Elzey’s performance as president or the former board’s decision to terminate his employment; rather, we are electing to put this matter behind us and concentrate on South Carolina State University’s future rather than undergoing the expense, disruption and inconvenience of possibly prolonged litigation,” Way said in a statement. He added that Elzey “remains a strong supporter and wishes the university a prosperous future.”

Way also said the settlement is consistent with the terms of Elzey’s contract, and he acknowledged that the prior board and Elzey “inherited formidable challenges, some of which continue to confront the university.”

“Among those challenges was a significant financial deficit and SACSCOC accreditation issues, both of which the university has taken substantial steps towards resolving,” Way said in a statement.

In early June, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges agreed to continue S.C. State’s probation for a year. The school remains accredited, but the commission said it was concerned about financial resources and stability.

Later that same month, the S.C. Budget and Control Board — which has since been restructured into the S.C. Department of Administration — extended the university’s $6 million loan repayment until 2020. A day later, S.C. State’s board declared financial exigency, a term used in higher education to mean a state of emergency that could result in salary reductions, layoffs, furloughs or cuts to tenured faculty, among other possibilities.

Fall semester classes began Aug. 18, and the university reported 746 new students were enrolled.

“The board is encouraged by the positive developments going on at the university, including our student enrollment numbers for the 2015-2016 school year,” Way continued in the statement. “Resolution of this matter allows the university to continue to focus on our bright future.”

Reach staff writer Ashley Heffernan at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyBHeff on Twitter.

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