Gov. Nikki Haley removed Wall Street financier Darla Moore and replaced her with a campaign donor two weeks ago, saying the board needed a new perspective. The university's business school is named for Moore, who has pledged $70 million to USC since 1998. She has served on the board as the governor's appointee since 1999.
Roughly 150 students and alumni rallied at the Statehouse on Wednesday to call on Haley to reinstate her. Haley made clear she would not, responding that no one is entitled to public office, regardless of their record of service or philanthropy. A Republican legislator has introduced a proposal to create another seat on the board that legislators could fill.
"I don't need a title or position to speak out. I just need a voice, my vision and a forum to be heard, just like you did this week," Moore told several hundred students at the university Thursday.
The comments were her first in public about the controversy. She challenged Haley and legislators by asking the state to match her gift. The Republican governor had convinced legislators to remove money for the aerospace center from the 2011-12 state budget proposal approved by the House.
"Neither you nor I need to be on the board of trustees to make this happen," Moore, a 1975 alumna, said to a standing ovation. "We need to simply hold our leaders accountable and tell them we understand they may not be able to help us, but we demand that they not hurt us."
Moore said the state needs a highly educated workforce to attract industry and retain its talent. University officials said Boeing's 2009 decision to expand its South Carolina operations was the impetus for the aerospace center. Boeing's jetliner assembly plant is set to open this summer and is expected to create 4,000 jobs.
Haley said Moore's pledge is exactly what she's been talking about.
"In tough budget years, when we are having to make the hard decisions that return government back to its core functions, private funds can be raised for things like the aerospace center," Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said.
Moore, a Lake City native, said her only requirement for the new center is that it be named for Ron McNair, an astronaut from Lake City who died in the space shuttle Challenger explosion in 1986. She called McNair an American hero. He was infamously told as a student in segregated South Carolina that he could not check books out of the public library because he was black.
The money will not cover the entire cost of the center, but USC President Harris Pastides said it will get the project moving.