Moore pledges $5M to USC, Haley weighs in

Moore speaks to USC students and faculty Thursday. / Adam Pinsker

COLUMBIA (WACH, AP) -- Former University of South Carolina board member Darla Moore made her first public appearance Thursday afternoon since Gov. Nikki Haley replaced her.

Moore, the school's largest donor, told students and faculty in support of bringing her back to the school's board of trustees that it's not about a title and her strong commitment to the university will continue.

She then announced she was giving a $5 million gift to USC to establish an aerospace research center. Moore requests the center be named after Dr. Ronald E. McNair, a South Carolina native and one of the first black astronauts in the manned space program.

Moore also encouraged the state to match that gift to the program.

Haley removed Moore from the board two weeks ago and replaced her with campaign donor and Lexington attorney Tommy Cofield.

The governor had convinced legislators to remove money for the aerospace center from the budget.

Haley says Moore's $5 million pledge is precisely what she's been talking about. She says in tough budget years, private money can fund things like that.

On Wednesday, Moore supporters gathered at the State House Wednesday in favor of bringing the school's top donor back to the position.

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The rally, set up through a Facebook page , took place just after noon on the North Steps of the Capitol.

The group was expecting more than 400 people to attend the protest of Gov. Nikki Haley's sudden removal of Moore from the board. However, it's estimated fewer than 200 people showed up in support.

"It's an event on Facebook, and with Facebook, people just click "I'm attending" to show support rather than show up", says USC student Steven Maas. "I'm really hoping the students pull together."

Hours after the rally, Governor Nikki Haley responded.

The governor always appreciates when people understand the power of their voice and fight for what they believe in " as students are doing today," explains Haley Press Secretary Rob Godfrey. "As for their message, 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, and there is real value in bringing in a new perspective.

Meanwhile, Sens. Jake Knotts and Ralph Anderson are sponsoring a bill that would give the General Assembly the ability to elect another member to the USC Board of Trustees.

Lawmakers currently appoint 16 members to the board, one from each judicial district. They're asking for an additional at-large appointee.

Katherine Muller helped organize Wednesday's event. She says she's encouraged by the bill that was introduced Tuesday, but Muller says that won't be needed if Haley's choice, Tommy Cofield, steps aside.

Moore has been the school's largest donor and has $70 million in pledges to her alma mater in irrevocable trusts. She has been on USC's board since 1999 and the university's business school bears her name.

Haley replaced her quietly two weeks ago with the campaign donor and USC alum. Haley's spokesman said the board needed a fresh set of eyes.

Moore also gave $10 million to Clemson University, Haley's alma mater.

What do you think about Moore's donation to USC for a aerospace research center? Vote in the poll and leave a comment below to let us know what you think.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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