USC faculty still on board with Innovista

Innovista still retains the support of many faculty members at the University of South Carolina, despite problems the school has had in building and managing the research campus.

"That's encouraging to hear," William "Ted" Moore, USC's chief financial officer and vice president for finance and planning, said of the faculty support. "That's not inconsistent with what we've heard."

USC's administration and local political leaders have billed Innovista as a way to bring in much-needed jobs and spur economic development through scientific research.

USC has spent $100 million to build a pair of research buildings and bring in scientific experts to lead teams that are supposed to make job-creating breakthroughs.

But two developers - including Kale Roscoe, who served a year in prison for federal tax evasion - have failed to build a private research building. And Innovista's executive director, John Parks, whom university officials said failed to properly vet Roscoe, resigned.

Despite those problems, faculty members said the idea of building a job-creating research campus remains a good one.

"It's not only still a good idea, I don't really see any other idea out there," said Lacy K. Ford, chairman of the History Department. "That project is so important, I think we have to stick with it."

While they support the general goals of the research campus, several faculty members said they do not know more about Innovista than what they read in this newspaper.

"As regular faculty, we aren't really kept in the loop," said Anne Bezuidenhout, chairwoman of the Philosophy Department. "They've given us practically no information."

Bezuidenhout, like other faculty members, said she is focused more on her own department.

There's plenty to focus on beyond Innovista.

The university is bracing for additional budget cuts as the state and national economies continue to struggle.

Those budget cuts have meant limited travel and frozen positions.

In that context, Innovista is just one challenge among many, faculty members said.

"I think people are frustrated," said William Rivers, chairman of the English Department. "But I think people are frustrated with the economy as a whole."

That frustration has apparently not led to widespread questions about the wisdom of moving forward on Innovista.

"The only thing I hear is the irony of all that empty space over in Innovista and our need for classroom and office space on campus," Rivers said.

Moore said he knows more office and classroom space would be useful but noted that much of the space in Innovista has been designed for specific scientific use.

"Using it for a more generic purpose might not be the most efficient use of that space," he said.

Patrick Nolan, a sociology professor and chairman of the Faculty Senate, said many of his colleagues think president Harris Pastides and his administration are doing the best they can under difficult circumstances.

"I think it sort of resonates with other faculty that president Pastides has taken over at a very difficult time," Nolan said. "We have a lot of confidence in his leadership."

Stephanie Mitchem, director of the African American Studies program, said the university should press ahead with Innovista.

"In practical terms, there is so much money in innovation," Mitchem said. "We have to have a place where people can think new things and try new things. I think we'd be crazy not to continue."