USC doesn't require Constitution classes, breaking state law

USC students aren’t required to take classes on the Constitution and other documents central to the founding of the U.S., which means the university is breaking state law.

State law requires public universities to teach their graduates at least one year of courses on the Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist papers.

And if they don’t, the law says that’s “sufficient cause for the dismissal or removal” of a university president.

The law was first raised as an issue by a pair of students — third-year political science student Jameson Broggi and fourth-year religious studies student Taylor Smith — a year ago, but pressure on the university has grown in the last few months.

Two state senators — Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, and Chip Campsen, R-Charleston — have written USC President Harris Pastides asking the university to comply with the law, which was last updated in 1998.

Pastides responded last week with a letter that says the law would need to be updated for USC to follow it. Pastides wrote that about 60 percent of USC students take classes on the founding documents and requiring the rest to do the same would cause problems.

“Without modernization, the strict application of [the law] would create an academic logjam, delaying a student’s timely graduation and burdening the student and parent with additional tuition and costs,” Pastides wrote.

Grooms and Campsen did not respond to requests for comment last week, but Broggi, who is running for student body president to draw attention to the law, said Pastides’ letter was “both sad and troubling.”

“President Pastides’ letter basically says he will follow the law after it is changed to fit his preferences,” Broggi said in an email.

But USC isn’t alone in not following the requirement.

Clemson University and the College of Charleston don’t make their graduates take classes on the Constitution. Winthrop University and Coastal Carolina University require their students to take three credit hours, which still doesn’t meet the one-year requirement.

Pastides also wrote that another requirement of the law — that schools ensure graduates are loyal to the U.S. — is “problematic” and that the laws, first passed in 1924, are now outdated.

“This law is in need of modernization, given today’s educational environment,” Pastides said in an email. He did not respond to an email asking how the environment had changed.

In an interview, Broggi said he and his friends are still setting up meetings with state legislators and that they’ve gotten support from some university trustees and a former governor.

He said he’s pushing USC to comply with the law because he thinks students should learn what their rights are and what sacrifices made by early Americans led to them.

“We’re all studying different fields, but I think it’s essential for every American to know these fundamental American values,” Broggi said. “How do we know what our rights really are and if the government is violating them if we haven’t studied the Constitution?"

Originally published in The Daily Gamecock, Feb. 9, 2014