Former Obama aide interested in Benedict job

Rick Wade has interest in becoming the next president of Benedict College.
Rick Wade has interest in becoming the next president of Benedict College.

A former Obama Administration official and cabinet head under S.C. Gov. Jim Hodges is interested in the top job at Benedict College in Columbia.

Rick Wade says Benedict alumni, faculty and students have approached him about becoming the next president of the private, historically black college after 23-year veteran David Swinton retires in June.

“I’m very intrigued about the idea and exploring the possibility,” Wade, 54, told The State. “The idea of leading and continuing the work that has already been done is exciting.”

The Lancaster native, currently a business consultant, has not been offered the job. Benedict has said it would hire a search firm to find Swinton’s replacement.

But Wade’s colleagues say his corporate connections and experience in state and federal government make him an ideal fit for the downtown Columbia school of roughly 2,300 students.

“Rick would be a strong, articulate voice for Benedict,” Hodges said. “If he’s not on their list, he should be. He’s someone who would do an excellent job.”

Wade, who is not an academic, would not be a traditional hire.

But historically black colleges face financial challenges as they compete for African-American students with schools that once barred them. As a result, some schools are turning to corporate leaders to be their presidents, hoping their real-world connections will translate into successes.

Last June, for instance, S.C. State University hired longtime AT&T executive James Clark as its new president.

If hired by Benedict, Wade said he would delegate academics to another administrator so he could focus on fundraising and partnerships with private companies.

“It’s a really good model, particularly for HBCUs,” said Wade, who earned his undergraduate degree from the University of South Carolina and his master’s degree from Harvard University. “It’s no surprise HBCUs have had tremendous challenges over the years, and one of those is in resources and finances.”

Wade touts his experience in national and state government and has been an executive at several private-sector firms. He currently works at his strategic communications and business consulting firm, The Wade Group.

Previously, Wade was a senior adviser to President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign and a deputy chief of staff in Obama’s U.S. Department of Commerce.

Before that, he worked as director of S.C. Department of Alcohol and Drug Services under Democrat Hodges, as a research analyst for the S.C. House’s budget-writing committee and as chief of staff to former S.C. Lt. Gov. Nick Theodore, D-Greenville.

“He’s been a high achiever his whole life,” Hodges said.

Wade has ties to Benedict.

He has spoken at the school several times, including delivering the college’s commencement speech in 2009. He has also been a valuable adviser to Benedict’s School of Business and Economics, its dean says.

“He doesn’t look at this as a paycheck,” said Gerald Smalls, the dean. “He looks at this as another step where he can use his skills to help students, and to help the institution go to the next level. ... I’m excited about him even thinking about something like this.”

Avery G. Wilks: 803-771-8362, @averygwilks