Clemson U Works With Liberal Lawmakers to ‘Kill’ Requirement to Teach Constitution

Clemson University officials, concerned about the “optics” of ignoring a South Carolina law requiring public colleges to teach the U.S. Constitution, have lobbied the state Legislature to repeal the requirement.

Clemson both refuses to comply with the existing law and opposes a bill in the South Carolina General Assembly to update it, according to emails between the university’s provost and two lobbyists for the school.

In an email to Clemson’s lobbyists at the General Assembly sent April 2, 2019, Provost Robert Jones instructed them to “kill” the legislation updating the law.

This email and others were obtained through a request for public documents under South Carolina’s Freedom of Information Act.

For 96 years, South Carolina law has required public colleges to mandate that students take a yearlong class on the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Federalist Papers.

But most colleges in South Carolina, including Clemson, violate the law by not requiring students to take a class on America’s founding documents, according to the state’s Commission on Higher Education. (A separate state law applies to high schools.)

Instead of complying with the law’s requirement of a yearlong class, Clemson pretends to comply by having students watch a short online video about the Constitution as part of its freshman course CU 1000.

Under this dubious logic, Clemson, the second-largest university in South Carolina, could claim to teach chemistry by having students watch an online episode of “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

Repealing Mandate for Colleges

Angie Leidinger, a taxpayer-funded lobbyist for Clemson, makes a salary of $285,221 in part to fight against the bill to update the law actively violated by Clemson.

Intended to make it easier for colleges to follow the law, the bill would reduce the length of required instruction from “one year” to “three semester credit hours.”

Leidinger used the phrases “happy to discuss” and “happy to share” in a Jan. 29, 2019 email to Democrat lawmakers asking them to repeal the requirement that colleges teach the Constitution.

The lobbyist wrote that Clemson supports efforts to “repeal in its entirety that portion of the bill that relates to higher education and have the burden [of a legal mandate to teach the Constitution] solely upon K-12.”

State Sen. Brad Hutto, a Democrat who sits on the Education Committee, “is not interested in trying to make [the] bill tolerable so is not interested in further amendments,” Deanne Gray, director of minority research for the state Senate, wrote back to Leidinger. “He wants the bill killed.”

Leidinger responded: “Thank you for your help on this!”

The South Carolina Senate overcame Democrats’ three-hour filibuster, led by Hutto, and passed the bill Feb. 13, 2019 by a vote of 29-7.

The state Senate sent the measure to the state House of Representatives, where it became bogged down in the higher education subcommittee with the help of Clemson lobbyists.

Concern With Appearances

Once the bill was in the House, Clemson lobbyist Mark Cothran, whose salary is $149,264, emailed Clemson’s associate provost, Jeremy King, on March 19, 2019.

Cothran had talked with House members who were concerned about the school’s three-credit hour graduation requirement called “cross-cultural awareness,” which isn’t mandated by South Carolina law.

Current law on teaching the founding documents imposes penalties for noncompliance, including removal of the university president.

Clemson places the additional cross-cultural awareness graduation requirement on students while not complying with the existing law.

King replied to Cothran by email, also on March 19, 2019: “I can