Students, grads rally for return of donor

Bruce Smith/AP Photo
Nikki Haley: Governor replaced major USC donor Darla Moore with an attorney who gave money to her campaign.

COLUMBIA --- University of South Carolina students and alumni on Wednesday called on Gov. Nikki Haley to reinstate Darla Moore to the USC board, even though they recognized the request was probably futile, calling it disrespectful for the new Republican governor to boot the school's top donor.


Moore, the namesake of USC's business school, plans to address supporters on campus today. It will be her first public statement since Haley replaced her with a campaign donor two weeks ago. Moore's appearance, confirmed by college officials, was announced at Wednesday's rally.

The announcement came a day after Sen. Jake Knotts, R-West Columbia, introduced a bill that would create a new seat on the 20-member board, to be elected by legislators. The General Assembly fills 17 of the slots.

Though he opposed Haley during her campaign, Knotts said his proposal isn't a move against her.

"I'm just trying to find a way to right a wrong and a graceful way to correct a problem," Knotts said, adding that he doesn't know Moore personally and has never met her. "I have no dog in this fight."

Haley opposes his idea.

"No legislator should be so arrogant as to create new legislation just because he doesn't approve of the governor's appointment," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said.

Moore has pledged $70 million to her alma mater in irrevocable trusts, and $10 million to Clemson University in her father's honor.

HALEY, WHO REPRESENTED Lexington in the House for three terms, replaced Moore with Lexington attorney and USC graduate Tommy Cofield, who gave $4,500 to Haley's campaign, as did his sister, who co-founded their law firm.

Haley has said she replaced Moore, a Lake City native and the governor's appointee since 1999, to give the board a fresh perspective.

Haley can fill two slots on the 20-member board. She reappointed Florence attorney Mark Buyck Jr., also a campaign donor, as her designee. He was first put on the board in 1987. Asked why Buyck wasn't replaced, Godfrey said he is not a voting member.

Haley's office made clear Wednesday that she would not change her mind about appointing Cofield.

"The governor always appreciates when people understand the power of their voice and fight for what they believe in -- as students are doing today," Godfrey said. "We have to be clear that these board positions are not lifetime jobs. There must be no sense of entitlement to public office, whether for legislators, governors or public university board members, regardless of their record of past service or philanthropy. There are many great people in South Carolina -- like Tommy Cofield -- who can and will do an excellent job in these positions."

Current and former students complained that the move didn't make sense.

"Here's a charitable, giving person, and we have a governor who essentially shows her the backside of her hand," said Columbia attorney Paul de Holczer, 49, who earned master's and law degrees from USC.

He acknowledged disappointment by the turnout of the noon rally. Fewer than 200 people attended the event, which was promoted on social Web sites.

Edna Wilcensky, a 68-year-old USC graduate, carried a sign that read: "$70,000,000 to USC. $4,500 to Haley. Do the Math." She credits Moore with the business school's top rankings.

"Her name and the people she knows carry a great deal of clout," said Wilcensky, of West Columbia.

Rally organizer Katherine Muller called on Cofield to step down, noting that she didn't expect Haley to reinstate Moore.

"My main thrust today is to call on Mr. Thomas Cofield to be the hero here, to be the superstar, to come out smelling like a rose and resign voluntarily," said Muller, 46, a 1990 USC business school graduate who runs a marketing firm and was a paid staffer for President Obama's presidential campaign.

She said he hopes Cofield doesn't want to serve on the board under these circumstances.

Cofield did not immediately return messages Wednesday. He also didn't return messages last week.

USC graduate and attorney Joe Underwood, 61, said he knows Cofield as an upstanding guy.

"But this smells like crass political payback -- like a payoff to a contributor," he said.

Godfrey contends Haley appointed Cofield because he's a "well-respected attorney, businessman, husband and father" who shares Haley's positions on higher education.

USC business major Paige Bachety, 20, said she found it odd that Haley, the state's first female governor, removed Moore and replaced her with another man. The board now consists of one minority female and 19 white men.



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