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Black SC lawmakers question why USC board bypassed more senior trustee for vice chair

The State (Columbia, SC) logo The State (Columbia, SC) 8/30/2022 Joseph Bustos, Alexa Jurado, The State
Chariman Dr. Dorn Smith reads a recent audit during a meeting of the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees on Friday, August 19, 2022. © Joshua Boucher/The State/TNS Chariman Dr. Dorn Smith reads a recent audit during a meeting of the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees on Friday, August 19, 2022.

Two Black Democratic state lawmakers are upset that a Black University of South Carolina trustee was bypassed for board vice chair last week while someone with less seniority was elected.

And now the lawmakers are readying themselves for renewed pushes to shake up the board.

On Friday, Aug 19, the USC board voted to make Thad Westbrook the chair of the board, moving him up from the vice chair position. Rose Newton was then elected vice chair in an 11-7 vote over Leah Moody.

Newton is the wife of state Rep. Weston Newton, R-Beaufort, chairman of the House Legislative Oversight Committee.

House Minority Leader Todd Rutherford and state Sen. Darrell Jackson, both Richland County Democrats who represent parts of the USC campus, say Moody, who is Black, was wrongfully passed over for vice chair.

“All of those members that chose to choose a white person over a Black person who had more seniority, the lack of respect for the African American community at large, and more specifically the African American community at USC, is palpable,” Rutherford said. “The University of South Carolina is not a plantation, but apparently to some board members it is.”

Trustee Miles Loadholt said he voted for Newton because he believed she was the most qualified. When asked why he believed she was most qualified, Loadholt said he would “not go into that.”

Westbrook, Newton and other board members did not respond to requests for comment.

Trustees J. Egerton Burroughs, C. Edward Floyd, Brian Harlan, Richard Jones, Toney Lister, Miles Loadholt, Elizabeth Moise, Emma Morris, Rose Newton, Dorn Smith and Mack Whittle voted for Newton.

Trustees Moody, C. Dan Adams, Alex English, Hubert Mobley, Molly Spearman, John von Lehe and Charles Williams voted for Moody.

Moody has been on the USC board since 2009. Westbrook joined the board in 2010 and Newton joined in 2018. The previous board chairman, Smith, has served on the USC board since 2010.

“I’m not one to call someone racist, but I would love to hear justification why an African American female with more seniority — served the board well, chaired subcommittees, wasn’t given an opportunity to be vice chair,” Jackson said. “I’m concerned the reason they did it is because they don’t ever want her to be chair. If that’s the case, it makes the matter even worse.”

Rose Buyck Newton speaks during a meeting of the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees on Friday, August 19, 2022. © Joshua Boucher/The State/TNS Rose Buyck Newton speaks during a meeting of the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees on Friday, August 19, 2022.

Jackson added his complaints are against only the board and not against the administration.

USC spokesman Jeff Stensland said that leadership positions on the board are not necessarily based on seniority. It is unclear what other criteria board members used in their decision.

The board elected a Black vice chair before. Samuel Foster II, who was also the first Black trustee, served in the role until his resignation in 2009. Lawmakers picked Moody to complete the remainder of his term before she was appointed to a full term in 2010.

Stensland said the board values diversity and that it is a focus of the governance committee. He pointed out more women serve on the board than in previous years.

Elections to USC board on hold

Smith and Westbrook were among five trustees who sought reelection this year by the Legislature to the USC board but a screening committee carried over their candidacies. The committee did back six potential newcomers and incumbent Alex English. Ultimately a vote by the Legislature on college trustee positions did not take place this year as lawmakers looked to restructure the USC board. A bill restructuring the board died in the Senate as the spring session ended.

Lawmakers wanted to restructure the board after a controversial presidential search in 2019 that led to the hiring of Robert Caslen and the contract buyouts for former football coach Will Muschamp and basketball coach Frank Martin. Caslen eventually resigned.

Newton and Moody both voted “no” on hiring Caslen.

“I think she’d (Moody) make a good vice chair because she’s a lawyer, she’s got seniority on that board, more than the chair, more than the elected vice chair. She understands the issues, she’s worked in government, she’s worked in private service,” Rutherford said. “She’s been there through everything the school has been through and been on the right side of it.”

The proposed restructuring would have wiped out all of the board members in 2023.

The Legislature did not conduct elections for the USC board earlier this year. The leadership in the Legislature is determining whether to start the 2022 process from the beginning or vote on those who had favorable reports from the College and University Trustee Screening Commission.

“We have to vote on these trustees and I don’t know how I could give my vote to someone that thinks so little of people who look like me,” Rutherford said.

Moody was the only Black person on the USC Board for 11 years until Alex English was elected.

She said she doesn’t know if race played a role in her being passed over.

“I’m extremely disappointed. I’ve worked hard for the university in the midst of criticism. I’ve fought for the university. I’ve provided thoughtful advice for 13 years,” Moody said. “My commitment to the institution remains the same”

English nominated Moody for vice-chair in Friday’s vote. He called her loss in the race unfortunate, noting Moody has never had the opportunity to be in that position.

“I know she puts the work in,” English said. “I felt like she was qualified and I nominated her based on that and having served with her for the past two and a half years and watching her and knowing her knowledge of the board.”

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