Thomas Elzey

In this July 22, 2014 file photo, Thomas Elzey, the president of South Carolina State University, discusses the challenges facing the historically black school during an Associated Press interview in his campus office in Orangeburg, S.C. South Carolina State University is certainly not alone among historically black colleges nationwide struggling to survive amid sharp drops in enrollment and revenue. Advocates say their collective future may rest on alumni stepping up their giving. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith, File)

ORANGEBURG, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina State University trustees have voted to fire suspended President Thomas Elzey just hours after a judge lifted his ban on ending the contract.

Trustees voted 6-1 in public with three members abstaining Monday to terminate Elzey’s contract, which has more than two years remaining. Members then immediately started meeting again in private.

Board of Trustees Chairman William Small read a prewritten motion saying Elzey was being fired based on letters trustees wrote in January and February. Those letters were not released.

A judge lifted his ban preventing South Carolina State University trustees from firing suspended school president Thomas Elzey on Monday, just hours before the likely lame duck board was scheduled to meet.

Elzey’s contract with the school allows him to be fired for any reason as long as he’s paid what he’s owed, Circuit Judge Edgar Dickson said in the decision overturning the ban he put on firing Elzey less than two weeks ago.

University trustees were holding a previously scheduled telephone meeting at 3 p.m. Monday to discuss the school’s organizational chart and fundraising campaign. Their attorney Ken Childs said the ruling would be discussed in private.

Firing Elzey without cause would cost the financially strapped university around $425,000, according to an estimate from state economic advisers. The school owes about $11 million in unpaid bills. Its total debt, when outstanding bonds are included, exceeds $83 million, legislators have said.

In this July 22, 2014, file photo, flags fly at the entrance to South Carolina State University in Orangeburg, S.C. The president of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund says a short-lived state legislative proposal to close the school may serve as a wake-up call to historically black colleges nationwide struggling to survive amid sharp drops in enrollment and revenue. (AP Photo/Bruce Smith, File)

The judge urged trustees to be careful, saying they should try to avoid unnecessary liability and follow due process in whatever they choose to do next, according to his order.

Elzey was hired on a 6-5 vote in spring 2013. Trustees gave him a favorable review last year. But that was before State House members last month suggested temporarily shutting the school after suggesting that Elzey wasn’t entirely honest about the school’s financial troubles.

On Feb. 12, trustees reiterated they backed Elzey. Eleven days later they put him on administrative leave without explanation.

Elzey sued the trustees for breach of contract, and Dickson banned them from firing the suspended president earlier this month. But after a hearing last week, the judge changed his mind, agreeing with Childs that Elzey’s contract allows him to be fired without cause as long as he gets the money in the contract.

The trustees’ days on the board are likely numbered. Both the House and Senate have approved proposals to fire all the trustees, nearly on unanimous votes. Both sides are currently trying to hash out differences in their plans, such as how the new trustees would be chosen.


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