After ‘great 10-year journey,’ USC President Harris Pastides to retire

The University of South Carolina will begin the search for a new president after Harris Pastides said Wednesday he would be stepping down from his position next year.

“Patricia and I want to thank everyone who’s guided us on this great 10-year journey,” Pastides said at his annual State of the University address with his wife, Patricia Moore-Pastides, by his side. “We’d like to tell you we intend to move on to a new chapter of our lives next summer. ... There’s never a perfect time for an announcement like this.”

It is unclear who will replace Pastides, 64, widely considered to be a transformative leader.

A Yale-educated epidemiologist from New York, Pastides took USC’s helm as the Great Recession hit in 2008, using low-interest rates to launch an unprecedented construction blitz of more than $1 billion in projects, including new buildings for the university’s law school and business school; growing student enrollment by 25 percent system-wide to more than 51,000 students; and guiding the university’s athletics programs to new heights, including NCAA titles in women’s basketball and baseball.

“Under Harris Pastides’ leadership, the University of South Carolina has achieved 217 years worth of ‘firsts’ in just one decade,” Gov. Henry McMaster posted on Twitter. “It has been an era of unparalleled success. Carolina stands taller than ever on the national and worldwide stage because of Harris Pastides.”

USC’s Board of Trustees is tasked with finding a new USC president, one of the state’s most prestigious and influential posts with clout reaching beyond the classroom, including research partnerships with the state’s heavy-hitter companies, including Boeing and IBM.

USC’s annual budget, which Pastides oversees, is more than $1 billion.

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The first step in that process will be forming a search committee of trustees, who then will decide on a timeline for finding a replacement, USC spokesman Wes Hickman said. Those first steps could happen as soon as Oct. 19, the next trustees meeting. However, Hickman said it is up to the trustees to decide when to begin the process.

The last time USC selected a new president, replacing outgoing leader Andrew Sorensen in 2008, the university launched a national search that took seven months and included 81 candidates, The State reported. Ultimately, university officials say they found the best candidate close to home in Pastides, who had been in USC administration for a decade.

Pastides, the university’s 28th president who also is the president of the Southeastern Conference, will work his last day July 31, 2019. He said he does not plan to move to another university and might return to USC as a professor or in another capacity after taking a break.

“He has been so impactful for this university,” student body President Taylor Wright said. “It’s hard to imagine anyone else in this role.”

Those close to Pastides say his easy demeanor and willingness to listen won him friends and allies around the state — and has benefited the university.

“He led the university well throughout different political climates, multiple ‘flood breaks’ and some tough times for the Carolina family,” said Ryan Lennox, a senior studying broadcast journalism. “He has always been the surrogate ‘dad’ for USC, and students love him for it.”

Pastides and wife Patricia, began discussing retirement during the summer with a growing desire to spend more time with family, he said. The couple has two grandchildren in California and Moore-Pastides’ mother lives in Connecticut.

Still, the announcement came as a surprise. As late as August, Patsides had told reporters at The State he had no plans to retire.

Convincing Pastides to continue as president was important to USC trustees who modified his pay package in August 2017 in an effort to hold his retirement at bay, The State reported. Pastides was paid more than $1.1 million last year with hundreds of thousands of additional dollars deferred into an insurance policy that pays out more the longer Pastides remains president.

“There’s a temptation to think if you keep going, you keep building on success,” Pastides said. “I worry about retirement. I worry about waking up with nothing to do.”

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The biggest challenge for his successor will be “cost control,” Pastides has said.

Lawmakers never fully restored state funding to USC after the Great Recession. As a result, tuition has more than doubled since 2000 at the state’s two-year and four-year institutions, according to inflation-adjusted Commission on Higher Education data.

Since Pastides took the job in 2008, in-state tuition has increased 39 percent, according to data from the Commission on Higher Education. In 2017, state appropriations made up only 12 percent of USC’s budget, according to financial reports and historical budget documents.

Meanwhile, the school’s debt load has swelled, and another $1 billion in projects is planned for the university’s Columbia campus, including overhauling the Carolina Coliseum and moving its medical school to Bull Street.

To reduce the cost of education, Pastides has been encouraging students to graduate in less than four years. He also has been advocating for the Higher Education Opportunity Act, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Vincent Sheheen, D-Kershaw, that would freeze in-state students’ tuition for a year and slow tuition growth by dedicating online sales tax revenue to fund higher education.

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As Pastides finishes his last 10 months as president, he said he will continue to focus on programs that reduce the cost of attending college.

Prior to becoming president of USC, Pastides was dean of its Arnold School of Public Health and vice president for Research and Health Sciences. Before joining USC, he was a professor of epidemiology and the chairman of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

“He was the type of president they brought up through the ranks,” said state Sen. Darrell Jackson, a Richland Democrat who is on the state Senate’s Education Committee. “Overall, (I am) very pleased with him. ... He will be missed.”

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Staff writer Heather Fordham contributed reporting.