Watch as the Marching 101 of S.C. State, The Blue Machine of Edisto High School and the Orange Crush of Orangeburg-Wilkinson entertain at the Orangeburg County Christmas Parade.

South Carolina State University ended 2021 on a positive note with a visit by the 46th president of the United States and its first HBCU national championship since 2009.

S.C. State Interim President Alex Conyers said while the university is relishing the spotlight, work continues to increase enrollment and improve technology infrastructure.

“Enrollment is absolutely key to the success of South Carolina State, like any other university,” he said.

Conyers described having U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the featured speaker for the December 2021 commencement as historic and phenomenal.

“The president’s visit has absolutely been a historic event for students, their families, faculty and staff. To have the president speak directly to our students as President Joe Biden did was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So for me personally, I thought it was just phenomenal,” Conyers said.

Biden came to honor his longtime friend and colleague, House Majority Whip James Clyburn, who also marched with the 2021 graduates. The congressman graduated from S.C. State in 1961, but received his diploma by mail but because there was no December commencement then.

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Following Biden’s Dec. 17 visit to the university, the school’s football team under the leadership of longtime head football coach Oliver “Buddy” Pough went on to handily defeat Jackson State to win the 2021 Celebration Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 18.

Conyers said that achievement was equally impressive.

“The Celebration Bowl win for us was a great win that validated the hard work of Coach Buddy Pough and his body of work over more than 20 years as the head coach at this university. It showed,” the interim president said.

“I saw these young men during the summer before school started practicing. I saw them progress every single week. So while this may have shocked many people, it did not shock me, nor Buddy Pough, or athletic director Stacy Danley, or Buddy Pough’s staff,” Conyers said.

He continued, “We certainly know that we were capable of doing just what we did. With hard work and a great game plan and execution, we thought that we could win this game. As I told someone, if we didn’t think we could win this game, we would not have showed up.”

S.C. State Board Chairman Rodney Jenkins said, “I can only smile, but I think these are things that we have been thinking about for a long time. As far as the bowl goes, the president has always talked about bringing in more students for next year, particularly in the fall. The bowl just gives more life to that. As far as the athletic department, getting to the Celebration Bowl was on their mind from the beginning of the season.”

Jenkins said Biden’s visit was also special for the university.

“We only had like a week’s notice on that, but that’s a great thing to have a week’s notice. I don’t know what else could have been any bigger, and then to have such a successful graduation ceremony. So, yes, the trajectory is definitely in the right place at this point. It’s hard to say anything else,” the board chairman said.

He referenced the Biblical scripture Proverbs 16:3.

“It talks about commit to the Lord all that you do, and he will establish your plan. Well, we’re committing South Carolina State to God, and he’s shining his good light on us. I just believe we have to give credit to where credit is due,” Jenkins said.

While the university seeks to increase enrollment, Conyers said it’s “important to note that we will see next year the results of the initial low enrollment of our upcoming junior and senior classes. Both of those classes are averaging about 350 students each.”

“So it is possible I could bring in 1,000 new freshman and still have less students than we did this year simply because the upcoming junior and senior classes collectively only have about 700 students. So it’s for us to get back on track for a sustained enrollment which, in turn, funds the university. We must look to bring in 750 to 1,000 freshman every year going forward,” he said.

Conyers continued, “We continue to work through challenges like any other university. I’m really looking forward to really rebuilding our entire network. We know that is key. So aside from recruitment and enrollment, it is about getting our network totally revamped for our technology infrastructure.”

Jenkins said, “We’re just elated to see what’s happening at this time. The president has talked about increasing enrollment. Now it’s up to staff to come to the board with their plans and using all of these good times and these good situations to propel such.”

Presidential search

James Clark was named S.C. State’s 12th president in 2016 after serving a one-year stint on a seven-member interim board appointed by the South Carolina legislature to help the university out of financial difficulties.

The S.C. State trustees unanimously approved a new contract with Clark in November 2020. The contract negotiated by Clark and the board members included a two-year term with an option to extend it for an additional two years based on Clark’s meeting performance benchmarks that align with the university’s strategic plan.

During a special teleconference meeting on July 13, 2021, the board of trustees voted 10-3 to remove Clark as president. Conyers was tapped to serve as acting president. He was later named interim president.

Jenkins said more details regarding the selection process for a new leader will come at the board’s February meeting.

“Clearly throughout the process we’re going to use the best practices for the industry of today in searching. … There will be a committee appointed soon for doing the selection process. Right now we’re working with our February date,” the board chairman said.

He continued, “One of the things that we want to ensure is that folks realize that we are stable at this point. Being stable going forward is a big thing for us. Our process will be thorough, and it will be transparent.”

Clark had been exploring his legal options following his ouster.

S.C. State Counsel Pete Balthazor said in an email on Dec. 22 that “nothing has transpired” as far as the university being served with a lawsuit or having to pay a legal settlement.

Contact the writer: or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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