COLUMBIA, S.C. — Clemson University officials want freer hands to run those programs not directly tied to educating undergraduates and graduates.
University officials recently pitched the Clemson University Enterprise Act to South Carolina legislators. The bill would shift oversight of activities such as economic development, new athletics and housing construction and research projects away from state regulatory agencies — including the Budget and Control Board — and put them under the control of a proposed “enterprise division” that would answer to the university’s board of trustees.
There would also be annual reports to the governor’s office as well as the heads of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees.
“Over the last five to seven years, we have been working with other higher educational institutions to seek greater regulatory relief; we want the opportunity to do more,” said Angie Leidinger, Clemson’s government affairs director.
“We’re hoping to move procurement, human resources and capital planning at a faster pace,” said Leidinger, who cited the Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research as one initiative that could benefit from greater university autonomy over planning and spending.
Republican Sen. Larry Martin of Pickens agreed with Leidinger’s characterizations,
“We want to do some things for the university so they spend a little bit less time jumping through hoops,” said Martin, who blamed a six-month delay in completing the university’s privately-financed indoor football practice facility on the state’s bureaucratic red tape.
Another co-sponsor of the bill, freshman Sen. Ross Turner, appreciates for the university’s frustration with the slow pace of state bureaucracy.
“I understand the need for them to be able to make decisions without waiting for two months,” said the Greenville Republican.
Leidinger denied the measure is an end run around the Budget and Control Board — comprised of the governor, the state’s treasurer and comptroller and chairmen of the Senate Finance and House Ways and Means committees — which has final say over most spending and procurement issues for institutions such as Clemson, the University of South Carolina and the state’s technical colleges.
Martin said the university’s board of trustees would remain accountable to the public and the General Assembly, and stressed that the university’s undergraduate education programs will still be governed by existing state rules.
Leidinger added that the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston has used a similar framework for more than a decade for programs that don’t grant degrees.
“This is aimed at those enterprises that don’t target the undergraduate mission,” Leidinger emphasized.
The measure is sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, a Gaffney Republican and 1970 Clemson graduate. Eight Republican and eight Democratic senators are co-sponsoring the bill, including Democrat Vince Sheheen, a former gubernatorial candidate and 1993 Clemson graduate The measure now sits before the Senate Finance Committee.
Martin wonders if there is enough time left for passage in the final two months of the ongoing session.
“I get the sense that the university would like to get it passed this session,” said Martin, whose three children have attended Clemson.