When the economy improves, University of South Carolina president Harris Pastides will ask the General Assembly for more money for the university, he said Monday.
Pastides, in a talk to some 200 members of the Columbia Rotary Club, said South Carolina now ranks last, with Arizona, in state taxpayer support of higher education.
Only 15 percent of USC's funding now comes from state money, Pastides said.
"That's no way to run a railroad," he told the group.
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Pastides said legislatures in states that have successful universities, vibrant economies and educated populaces usually contribute far more money to their institutions of higher education than South Carolina.
Pastides' 25-minute speech - in which he paid tribute to USC's football victory over Clemson last weekend - was upbeat. He went out of his way to say he wasn't "whining" about state legislators' lack of support - merely pointing out a situation that needs to be addressed if the state is to make progress, he said.
The economy is affecting the university in other ways, he said.
For example, it used to be that many prospective students who turned down USC went to elite institutions like Duke and Furman universities, Pastides said.
Now, he said, the economy is such that qualified students who decide not to go to USC are going to Midlands Technical College, Pastides said.
"That is what the economy is doing," he said. "We're being turned down by families who make $75,000 a year, combined income, who still can't afford to come."
A measure of the interest Rotarians had in Pastides' speech was that everyone stayed in their seats at 2 p.m., when lunch speakers are supposed to stop talking.
"I didn't see anyone get up and leave," said Rotarian Jim Covington, a semi-retired head of a documentary film company. "He was well-received."
Pastides said this year's 3,000-plus freshman class is both the university's biggest and best - as measured by SAT scores. Prospective students should know that if they are qualified, the university will explore financial-aid packages with them, he said.
On another front, Pastides said that while his latest major initiative, to introduce civility into political debates, has been generally well received, some people have criticized him as being out to stifle dissent.
Pastides said he doesn't want to stop people from discussing any subject - just to avoid discussions that degenerate into shouting and name-calling.
Recently, he said, world-famous atheist and evolution theory supporter Richard Dawkins of Oxford University spoke at USC's coliseum.
Dawkins, a critic of religion and Christianity whose most popular book is "The God Delusion," might have been expected to provoke untoward reactions in South Carolina, known for its staunch Bible Belt theology.
But some 2,000 people turned out, and while the discussion grew passionate at times, "no one had to be escorted out; no one was arrested," Pastides aid.
That's the kind of healthy exchange citizens and politicians should aspire to, Pastides said.