USC’s Pastides will be ‘a hard act to follow,’ presidential finalist says at forum

The University of South Carolina held the first of four public forums for students, faculty and members of the public to meet the top contenders to replace university President Harris Pastides.

Monday’s event featured Joseph “Jay” Walsh Jr., the vice president of research at Northwestern University.

Finalist William F. Tate will be at USC on Tuesday; Wednesday it will be Robert L. Caslen Jr. and Thursday will be John S. Applegate. The public session will all be held at 3:30 p.m. in the Program Room of the Ernest F. Hollings Library.

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The Board of Trustees could decide on the university’s next president as soon as Friday, when the board will meet for a regularly scheduled meeting.

Here are five takeaways from Monday’s forum with students.

1.) Who is Joseph Walsh Jr.?

Walsh is a native of Foxborough, Massachusetts, a father of five, a daily runner and an athlete who turned down a soccer scholarship so he could attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he said.

One of Walsh’s favorite parts about working in academia is how a new wave of students every year keeps things fresh.

“This is an industry where one-forth of the clientele turns over every year,” Walsh said. “The newness that turnover brings is just fantastic.”

2.) Vision for USC

Walsh wants to make USC a “world-class university” by recruiting and retaining top-tier faculty and students, improve facilities and making USC an entrepreneurial hub for sciences, arts and more.

When asked about his response to specific issues, he said he needed to learn more by talking to students, faculty and more.

“I’m never going to understand this place until I meet people and talk to them,” Walsh said.

“I think it’s presumptuous for me to come in from the outside and say what’s best for you,” Walsh said.

3.) Best quote

“I love academia. I love the mission of academia. I love teaching the next generation of students,” Walsh said.

A close second:

“You have a clearly beloved president... That’s going to be a hard act to follow,” Walsh said.

4.) Students say...

“I like that he goes out into the community and tries to talk to people,” said Anna Cofie, a PhD student.

For Cofie, it was “vital” USC’s next president focus on graduate and doctoral programs.

“I think it’s cool that he’s looking beyond undergraduate students,” Cofie said.

When students asked Walsh questions, they focused on diversity, mental health, Five Points, sustainability and more. Walsh’s answers, some felt, left something to be desired.

“I feel like some of his questions he answered very broadly and very vaguely,” said Maya Queenan, a junior studying broadcast journalism.

Later in the day, Walsh faced a larger crowd and was confronted by students who protested what they see as a lack of diversity in the university’s finalists.

“I thought he was well-spoken, but not very dynamic as a speaker. But seemed approachable,” said Jessie Millis, a junior majoring in globl studies and philosophy. “Definitely handles a challenge well.”

5.) Walsh’s take on diversity

Before students asked Walsh about diversity, he set aside time in his prepared remarks to promise the student body that although he, as a white, straight male, didn’t represent diversity, he will hire a diverse staff.

“I can’t change who I am, but I can go out and I have gone out and been very proactive in building a diverse team,” Walsh said. “I hire for excellence...society has reached a point that when you hire for excellence you get diversity.”

Walsh said that was his strategy at Northwestern when hiring eight associates who reported to him. As a result, five of those associates were women, some were from other countries and others were from underrepresented minority groups, he said.

“If he does what he says he will do... I think that will be enough,” Queenan said.