Benedict College president David Swinton, credited with turning around the downtown Columbia school, will step down in June after 23 years in charge.
Swinton will retire June 30, leaving a legacy as a forceful leader who guided the private, historically black college through a campus building boom, grew its student body and programs, and improved the community surrounding it, colleagues say.
“He was a hard-driving, dedicated and committed individual who cared extremely about the students and their well-being as well as Benedict College, the campus, everything,” said S.C. State University president James Clark, who sat on Benedict’s board of trustees for 18 years.
Benedict announced the retirement of its longest-serving president Monday, adding it will hire a search firm to find Swinton’s successor.
Swinton was dean of Jackson State University's business school for seven years before becoming president of Benedict, where the New York University and Harvard University graduate leaves big shoes to fill.
When Swinton took over, student enrollment was down, campus buildings were boarded up, and the community surrounding Benedict was derelict, with crack houses abounding, Benedict trustees chairman Charlie Johnson said.
Under Swinton, Benedict added a new student center that bears Swinton’s name, a college bookstore, more than 580 dormitory rooms, and three apartment complexes with a 300-space parking facility.
Its main campus also grew to more than 200 acres from 24.
Through partnerships and grants, Benedict purchased and renovated more than 50 nearby abandoned buildings and homes, eventually selling them to members of the community and faculty members.
After 29 years in dormancy, Benedict also resurrected its football program, revived its marching band and started a golf program. The school also developed a multimillion-dollar sports complex, anchored by a 10,000-seat football stadium, on Two Notch Road.
“He’s done a yeoman’s job,” said Gerald Smalls, dean of Benedict’s School of Business and Economics. “His legacy is development and service and community. He really has transformed that community.”
The changes helped Benedict attract more students. The college’s enrollment has nearly doubled – to 2,283 this year from 1,266 in 1994, when Swinton took charge.
“He brought the school back,” said Johnson, who called Swinton a “transformational” leader.
Swinton also started a program in 1995 that requires all students to complete 120 hours of community service before they graduate.
“He’s just very altruistic in terms of wanting to give back and wanting to help others,” said Damara Hightower, dean of Benedict’s School of Education. “It’s an expectation of students at Benedict and of people who work here.”
Clark, the new S.C. State president, said he always will remember Swinton’s attention to detail – he was known for providing too much material at board meetings – and the care he took of campus.
Swinton never failed to stop and pick up trash when walking around campus, Clark said.
“It was not for show or for anyone,” Clark said. “That’s what he felt about the campus. That’s what sticks.”
Colleagues say after for more than two decades at Benedict’s CEO, Swinton deserves a retirement.
“He’s done an unbelievable job over the last 23 years,” Smalls said.