Cindi Ross Scoppe

Harris Pastides just finished 10 years as USC’s president. What’s next?

USC president Harris Pastides walks between students during USC’s graduation ceremony in May.
USC president Harris Pastides walks between students during USC’s graduation ceremony in May. gmcintyre@thestate.com

THE AVERAGE tenure of a U.S. university president is 6.5 years. On Aug. 1, Harris Pastides began his 11th year at the helm of the University of South Carolina.

The anniversary, Dr. Pastides told me earlier this week, prompted him to reflect on his presidency.

He’s proud of the school’s growing national reputation and boasts that being in the center of an increasingly urbane yet extremely affordable city helps him attract “some of the best minds in the world.”

He’s inspired by the “energy and life” of the school’s diverse and growing student body. (And no, he didn’t talk about the Gamecocks’ successes, but he knows I’m not that into sports.)

But overshadowing all of that has been money.

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Cindi Ross Scoppe

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Dr. Pastiudes became president at the dawn of the 2008 recession and had to start immediately into belt-tightening. That was understandable, he said, but “you can rally people around, you can do things in an emergency that you can’t do” on an ongoing basis to cut costs. And “when the recession started to subside, state funding did not return.” (I’ll write more soon about how he plans to deal with this.)

Early in our conversation, Dr. Pastides noted that “the challenges for me and the next president are absolutely going to be cost control.” Which obviously raised a question.

No, he assured me, a year after USC trustees reconfigured his pay package to encourage him to stay longer, he has no plans to retire.

He stills look forward to the life-altering event that occurs every August, when 6,000 undergraduates and 2,000 transfer students return to campus.

The 64-year-old epidemiologist, who was on the USC faculty for a decade before being named president, still loves his job, and he and his wife, Patricia, still look forward to the life-altering event that occurs every August, when 6,000 freshmen and 2,000 transfer students arrive on campus. He’s not sure he’d even know what to do if he weren’t connected to a university — as he has been since he first enrolled as an undergraduate at the University of Albany.

But, he said, he believes it’s important to think about succession planning. He talks frequently about that with the USC Board of Trustees. And he doesn’t expect to complete a second decade as president.

Which is to say that what’s next for USC’s 28th president is controlling costs at USC. And improving quality. And staying inspired.

Only five presidents have lasted longer than Dr. Pastides.

Besides, 20 years in the President’s House would be unprecedented. Only five presidents have lasted longer than Dr. Pastides: John Palms served 11 years, from 1991 through 2002; Thomas Jones, 12 years, 1962-1974; Thomas Cooper, 13 years, 1921-1934; and Jim Holderman served 14 years, 1977-1990.

The longest-serving USC president was its first: Jonathan Maxcy was inaugurated in 1804 and died during his 16th year in office, in 1820.

Ms. Scoppe writes editorials and columns for The State. Reach her at cscoppe@thestate.com or (803) 771-8571 or follow her on Twitter or like her on Facebook @CindiScoppe.

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