Clemson Lawsuit

, Louisa Tavlas, Leave a comment

A lawsuit filed by a former Clemson University advisor alleges that he was fired after raising questions over the school’s increased tuition, according to The Tiger Town Observer, Clemson’s Conservative Journal of News and Opinion.

Chalmers Eugene Troutman, who in May 2005 was named Executive Secretary of the Board of Trustees, claims that marked tuition increases since 2000 are not only unnecessary, but have overstuffed a rainy day fund that has grown to 80 million dollars.

Troutman also accuses select University officials of corrupt business practices and mismanagement of the school’s financial assets.

The January 9 suit was filed with the Richland County Clerk of Court’s office, and names President James Barker, General Counselor Clay Steadman, Provost Doris Helms, and, with the exception of David Wilkins, the entire Clemson board of Trustees.

The complaint reads: “Representatives of the University made non-factual public statements regarding the need for tuition increases. Year after year, the Defendants hoarded the cash generated by these increases.”

Troutman was named Executive Secretary of the Board of Trustees in May 2005.
While acting as Executive Secretary, he voiced criticisms over improper management, which he felt had led to Clemons’ increasingly troubling financial problems. This led to increasing friction between Troutman and the Board of Trustees, culminating in his removal in August 2007.

Troutman seeks unspecified damages, and wants to be rehired in his previous position as board secretary and advisor to university President James Barker. Barker is one of the defendants in the suit.

In the lawsuit, Troutman indicates that he was fired after refusing to resign because the University was uncomfortable with his perceived “watchdog” role. He also explains that Clemson’s “team player” system of management prevented him from installing necessary checks and balances. He failed to comply in covering up the University’s financial activities, resulting in his being fired, Troutman alleges.

The most stunning allegation listed in the complaint states that the hoard of unrestricted cash (funds that are raised with no specific purpose) had reached 80 million dollars between 2000 and 2007. In this time, there was an almost 200 percent increase in in-state tuition.

In response to complaints, the University claims that the increase was necessary due to budget cuts by the South Carolina General Assembly, and that it was “good business practices” to plan “four or five years ahead.” For this reason, the Board of Trustees refers to the hoard as a “rainy day” fund.

Critics remain unconvinced. Clemson’s former Chief Financial Officer Scott Ludlow said: “Yes, it is good practice to have a little bit of money tucked away. But it is quite a difference to have a state institution like Clemson to have that much money in reserves.” He added that since Clemson does not have direct control over enrollment and tuition, 95 to 98 percent of its funding is guaranteed. This largely undermines justifications made by the Board of Trustees.

Former Budget Director Alan Godfrey is among the lawsuit’s supporters. He is said to have called the unrestricted cash hoards a “time bomb.”

Also mentioned in the lawsuit are the problems with Clemson’s salary increases. The complaint reads: “Large salary increases were given over multiple years to certain members of the Administration. Certain administrators who received these raises, including defendant (Clay) Steadman, were improperly classified as “lecturers” in order to circumvent maximum wage limitations proposed by State Law.”

Louisa Tavlas is an intern at the American Journalism Center, a training program run by Accuracy in Media and Accuracy in Academia.