President Harris Pastides delivering the State of the University speech

State of the University

Also known as Celebrate Carolina, the marching band and refreshments make this a festive gathering at the beginning of the fall semester. On September 10, 2015 President Harris Pastides recognized the contributions of students, faculty and staff during the previous year, and shared his vision for the university's future. 

Prepared remarks

Thank you and good morning everyone. It’s so good to see everyone, right here, in the very heart of our university. Thank you Jonathan and Andrew for participating and for leading our undergraduate and graduate student bodies.

And thanks to the Mighty Sound of the Southeast for that rousing music, what a perfect way to start the day! For a few brief moments, even the cicadas took note and stopped their clamoring! Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking our new marching band conductor Dr. Cormac Cannon, and band director Dr. Scott Weiss, as well as the 370 Gamecock students whose music makes us believe that victories are always possible, no matter the score.

Some of our musicians will stick around for a while because I’ve helped choreograph a new formation that will help me announce our Carolina’s Promise Campaign final tally, later in my talk. Don’t let my choreography scare anyone away!

As I prepare to share with you some news and plans for the year ahead, I pause to recognize the valued insight of those who guide and support the university across our 8 campuses at 14 locations: members of the Board of Trustees, led by Mr. Gene Warr, the Board of Visitors, including their chair, Mr. Chip Felkel; our Alumni Association Board of Governors led by President Paula Harper Bethea; and the Carolina Faculty represented by the Chair of the Faculty Senate, Professor Augie Grant. Let’s please recognize them.

I’m delighted that we’re joined by our USC system colleagues: Dr. Susan Elkins our Chancellor of Palmetto College, Dean Walt Collins, USC Lancaster; Dean Mike Sonntag, USC Sumter; Dean Alice Taylor-Colbert, USC Union and our new Provost Joan Gabel who joined us on August 24.     

Welcome to members of our state government. Thank you for coming. Our good Midland neighbors, representatives of both city and county government are also here in this historic setting. I know that we have a shared goal of creating an even better Midlands and a better state. Thank you for attending.

Finally, I warmly recognize… Patricia Moore-Pastides, who does so much as our first lady, and without whom, I wouldn’t have the personal support and encouragement to serve so many others… Good morning Patricia.

Our resilience and determination…our willingness to innovate and to work hard and work together, has cut through the headwinds that crippled or deterred many others.

Friends, one month ago I began my 17th year at Carolina and my 8th year as President of this great university. Together, we’ve navigated around quite a few impressive roadblocks. But my memory is far more consumed with our many impressive accomplishments. I don’t think that’s a trick of memory either…it’s because our accomplishments have overwhelmed the challenges.

Our resilience and determination…our willingness to innovate and to work hard and work together, has cut through the headwinds that crippled or deterred many others. And now that we know with certainty that the headwinds won’t deter us, we need to accelerate our progress. That’s what we plan on doing this year.

We are crafting a plan and calling it Carolina 2025, a plan that will take the university into the century’s third decade. Our planning has always been and continues to be purposeful, not accidental. That’s the only way to get where you want to go and to know when you’ve arrived. You’ll hear more about Carolina 2025 in the months ahead, but be assured that the major components focus on the quality of the student experience.

Although our superior student experience already receives national recognition, we will continue to look for new methods to help our students maximize their experience.

Let me give you an example. Last December, after studying national best practices for advising, we sent out a pair of student and adviser surveys. We soon discovered that our students identified advising as their top priority for institutional improvement. We went straight to work. This past July, under the direction of Dr. Claire Robinson, we opened a new University Advising Center located on the first floor of the Close-Hipp building. 

It provides the most consistent, accessible and useful student advising that we have ever offered to our students and it provides special attention to freshman, transfer and other students in transition.

This year we plan to hire up to 25 more first-year advisers. They will help to improve student retention, academic progression and decrease time to graduation by reducing changes of major and streamlining course selection. And we’ll be using data tracking and data analytics to help us. And of course we will be listening to our students to learn if we’ve succeeded. 

Two years ago we launched the Graduation with Leadership Distinction program. To earn this high honor, students must demonstrate extensive, purposeful leadership engagement beyond the classroom through four pathways. It is gratifying that our students are embracing this concept. To date, 314 students have earned this distinction and I expect this year to see the greatest participation ever.

Our faculty continues to accelerate their quest for research funding, and last year saw us break our own previous record. The faculty was awarded nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in sponsored awards representing a 5.5 percent increase from 2014.

Another key to perfecting our student experience is to continue recruiting and retaining a world-class faculty. I’m grateful to my extraordinary colleagues and the great commitment each of them brings to our students and to their own scholarship.

Our faculty continues to accelerate their quest for research funding, and last year saw us break our own previous record. The faculty was awarded nearly a quarter of a billion dollars in sponsored awards representing a 5.5 percent increase from 2014. And the economic impact of their activity on our region is estimated to be $630 million. Please don’t think these increases are a given every year. It’s not the national norm as many universities are struggling to keep pace in this intensely competitive funding environment.

Carolina 2025 calls for an expansion of our faculty with a goal of 25 net new faculty members a year through the next decade, in addition to replacing faculty who resign or retire.  These new colleagues will allow us to continue the expansion of our research base to compete with the best global universities; meet the needs of a growing student body; and better prepare our graduates for the jobs of the future.   

Faculty Salary Compression issues will also be addressed this year. We have made $1.7 million available for faculty members who have been identified as deserving salary compression relief and Provost Gabel and the deans are working on this at present.

Joan met the high bar that we set when the Provost search was launched. She is deeply committed to educational excellence, faculty development and inclusiveness. She is looking forward to learning and contributing and her impact, although early, is starting to be felt.

She will also be devoted to our top scholars – which is why our Honors College must continue to be supported and continue to be highly ranked.

You may have seen a recent opinion piece in the New York Times that noted our Honors College was a comparable alternative to Ivy League universities and a better bargain for parents.

From Honors College to Capstone, Fulbright, Goldwater, Hollings Scholars and more – our students are excelling and also taking advantage of all that USC offers.

Magellan Scholar Lily Gullion (Gull – ion) is a perfect example. Lily has a passion for helping children with disabilities. This passion took the exercise science major to the Netherlands over the summer where she collaborated with professors to refine computer games created by Carolina exercise science professor Roger Newman-Norland.

Lily reports that the games are promising as useful tools for therapists who work with children with autism spectrum disorder.

What I love about Lily’s story is how she leveraged all resources available, including crowd funding, a partnership with the Office of Research and experiment.com, to make her Netherlands’ experience possible.

Speaking of standouts, we have 47 nationally ranked academic programs, more than any other university in the state, including our No. 1 undergraduate international business program and our No. 1 graduate international business program, as well as solid rankings in exercise science, engineering, public health, nursing, hospitality, criminology and others.

She told us, “I couldn’t understand how such a huge school could foster teacher/student relationships. However, the faculty and staff have done an excellent job in providing students with personalized experiences, and USC has given me an incredible support system.” That, is a great story and we hear about other student standout stories all the time.

Speaking of standouts, we have 47 nationally ranked academic programs, more than any other university in the state, including our No. 1 undergraduate international business program and our No. 1 graduate international business program, as well as solid rankings in exercise science, engineering, public health, nursing, hospitality, criminology and others.

And two standout initiatives that are serving our students well, and that gained a lot of national attention last year, are Palmetto College and On Your Time Graduation.  

Since the 2013 launch of Palmetto College, 1,452 students have been enrolled in one of seven online bachelor’s degree completion programs. Of those, 385 have already earned a bachelor’s degree and more than 10,000 seats have been filled in 320 unique online courses. Most of these new graduates have told us that they would not have received their degree, gotten a raise, or improved their lives without Palmetto College.

On Your Time Graduation, in its third year, is also in full flight. As you know, On Your Time is our commitment to timely graduation and reducing student debt. We have re-engineered the academic year so that we teach all twelve months. Now, students don’t have to take an annual summer sabbatical. Instead, they can accelerate their path to graduation, saving time and money.

The feedback from students is positive. We know, because this summer they enrolled in one or more of 600 courses, including 43 Carolina Core courses. We also know that approximately 20,000 (19,737) classroom seats were filled, (substantially beating last year’s numbers).

And as a result of extensive lobbying led by USC, students were able to use their lottery scholarships for summer classes this year.

I applaud the General Assembly for financially supporting Palmetto College and On Your Time, bringing a new flexibility and reality to the college experience in South Carolina. We are making waves nationally and there is even more we are contemplating.

Throughout our system we serve more than 48,000 students. When our campuses work together to form a cohesive whole, there is great power in our combined efforts. The old adage is true, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

We’re also making sure that our student-athletes have the opportunity to excel both on and off the field. My role as NCAA chairman has placed me in a front seat position in the national conversation about the future of intercollegiate competition.

I believe strongly that it’s important to preserve the amateur model we love so much, while providing more financial support, career counseling, health monitoring, and financial wellbeing to our student-athletes. Gamecock students this fall received an extra stipend to cover legitimate expenses not formerly allowed by the NCAA. These expenses cover things like traveling home and back, food outside the meal plan, gas and other sundries.

Led by Ray Tanner and Fran Person, USC has moved to the national forefront by creating and launching the Gamecock Student-Athlete Promise: A Championship Experience. Universities around the nation are now joining us by also expanding benefits and we welcome that.

Throughout our system we serve more than 48,000 students. When our campuses work together to form a cohesive whole, there is great power in our combined efforts. The old adage is true, the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts.

With that in mind, Mary Anne Fitzpatrick has assumed the new position of Vice President for System Planning and is already working to improve the quality, coordination, effectiveness and long-range planning for the entire system.

Our three comprehensive universities beyond Columbia are thriving – all have bucked a national downward trend with the highest enrollment in their history. In addition, the quality of what they do is evident everywhere.

USC Aiken is ranked as the top public baccalaureate college in the South by U.S. News & World Report for the 11th time and USC Upstate and USC Beaufort are in the top ten again this year.

Of particular note is USC Aiken’s Pacer Pathway Program – a one-year residential program offered jointly by USC Aiken and USC Union. The Pathway provides first-time students affordability, access and academic support from both institutions with the opportunity to enroll at USC Aiken.

USC Beaufort, with two distinctive campuses in the Carolina Sea Island communities, welcomed a new chancellor, Dr. Al M. Panu, who is an accomplished academic leaders.  

I also want to highlight USC Beaufort’s Sand Shark Scholars program, much like Pacer Pathway and Gamecock Gateway, Sand Shark Scholars offers a successful collaboration between USC Beaufort and USC Salkehatchie allowing students to make progress in their intended major during their freshman year while preparing to enroll at USC Beaufort at the start of their sophomore year.

At USC Upstate, The Child Advocacy Studies program will open its Child Protection Training Center at the George Dean Johnson, Jr. College of Business and Economics in downtown Spartanburg. And in 2014, USC Upstate received a $2.2 million program grant from the U.S. Department of Education designed to increase student success and graduation rates.  

Indeed, The University FOR South Carolina is vital to every corner of the state.

Ladies and gentlemen, our Columbia campus has been in a state of construction and renovation much of last year and certainly this summer. But the work of all of the architects, masons, carpenters and painters assures us that our buildings and classrooms will support an even better student-learning environment.

This morning, many of our Columbia students are in new classrooms. They are in the Darla Moore School of Business, the College of Information and Communications, and the College of Social Work over in Hamilton. Rutledge, Legare and Pinckney are all in the midst of renovations.

650 Lincoln, the newest public/private student-housing complex is also buzzing with activity, and numerous private housing projects are under construction.

Carolina 2025 – strategically plans for 530,000 GSF of repurposed academic space that will enable USC to continue to meet the needs of a larger undergraduate student body.

This space in the Close-Hipp complex and in the current School of Law, which will be vacated in 2017 when the impressive new School of Law complex is completed, will increase the number of undergraduate classrooms and instructional laboratories.

As South Carolina’s only Carnegie top-tier research university, we have a profound economic impact of $4.1 billion annually on the Midlands and the state.

As South Carolina’s only Carnegie top-tier research university, we have a profound economic impact of $4.1 billion annually on the Midlands and the state.

I am also proud of our status as one of only 40 public universities in the entire country to hold both the Carnegie top-tier designation and the community engagement designation.

Our Office of Economic Engagement, under the direction of Bill Kirkland, has facilitated several significant public/private partnerships that promise to give us a competitive edge as we serve higher education in both the state and the nation.

We plan on developing additional public private partnerships like those we announced recently and which are already making a significant impact on our state.

For example, our IBM Center for Applied Innovation is succeeding as the place where experts from the university and IBM work together to provide IT application services to both public and private sector organizations. They focus on “Big Data” and Analytics and they provide internships for our students.  

Once construction is completed, the Center, which also houses Fluor Corporation technicians, will move to its new home on the corner of Blossom and Assembly in the Innovista Research District.

In August, we marked the first formal partnership between Boeing and USC’s McNair Center, South Carolina’s university-based aerospace research center. This partnership provides $5 million in funding for research projects to create the next generation of aerospace technology and improve existing products.  

And In the near future I’ll be announcing a new initiative in Cyber Security. Cyber Security is absolutely vital because our nation must provide better security within the digital world in which we live. It is part of our national security and our personal security.

USC has the expertise to work with the private sector and with other state institutions to help us face the future with greater confidence and we will have more to say about this in the fall. 

We are also planning an Institute to help improve K-12 teacher and principal training, especially in rural parts of the state. We simply cannot stand on the sidelines while our educational needs are so profound.

And we won’t stand on the sidelines as national conversations about social, health and political issues continue to fracture and fray. I remain intent on fostering a community of scholars who understands the value of civility and the importance of service-leadership.

In the wake of Charleston’s great tragedy this summer, there seemed to be a rich abundance of unity— of brother and sisterhood. Indeed, I was extremely proud to be a South Carolinian as we saw how the people of our state responded to that unimaginable heartbreak.

John Dozier, our Chief Diversity Officer, and other community leaders are planning a series of community dialogues — bringing a town & gown spirit and honest conversation to the effort. A university is a perfect place for honest conversation and debate…conversation that may not always end with concrete resolution but one that advances a respectful tenor and creates a more tightly woven community, one that is resilient in time of crisis and more embracing of change when it arrives.

I will, of course, continue to advocate for increased state funding. We owe this to each family that scrimps, saves, and does without other things so their son or daughter can attend Carolina. This university’s Board of Trustees and I are extremely sensitive to the burden of debt, and I feel optimistic about our common cause with the General Assembly to address our funding situation with creativity and resolve this year.

We will call on all public universities to work with us and, together, suggest a path that leads to a strong handshake with state government. We will bring leadership, flexibility and compromise in the name of limiting or reducing student debt and I will work closely with Jonathan and Andrew, the Board of Trustees, Board of Visitors and Alumni as we move ahead. Let’s hope that next year we will be celebrating with government leaders a path forward that we found together.

And with your indulgence, I’d like to now celebrate, with you, something that very few universities have ever done, raised over a billion dollars within a defined period to support the many deserving needs of our students and faculty. Finding that support was Carolina’s Promise.

We started the campaign at a time of duress—as tough financial times began to roil higher education and the nation.

I remember eyebrows being raised when we contemplated and then announced the goal. I also remember our campaign consultant reminding us that SC was not an affluent state, that no other organization in the state had ever done this, and that many of our alumni, who wanted to help, were young. But I also knew that we had a great case to make; that we could pull together a great campaign committee; that non-alumni would contribute; and that everyone wants to be on a winning team.

And today, I’m happy…make that ecstatic, to announce our campaign’s final number…a number that indeed, starts with a capital “B.” 

I’ve asked some members of the marching band to help me reveal the final number.

I want to thank our Campaign chairman David Seaton, Jancy Houck, Michelle Dodenhoff, and our entire development team. Let me also thank the entire Carolina Family including students, faculty, staff, alumni and other friends who were there with us all the way…and our 136,850 generous donors who took us over the top.

Each of you has made this possible. And in making it possible, each of you has made a significant difference in the lives of Carolina students. This isn’t the end of a campaign; it’s the beginning of a better future.

So, as I close, I readily admit that I have much to be thankful for. I’m privileged to help lead the best university in the world (that’s according to my personal ranking system), I have the high energy that this year will demand of me, and I think that the likelihood that next year I will be able to give an equally hopeful and optimistic State of the University address is quite high. It’s a particular honor to be in the company of this young generation. Because they have “no limits,” the University has “no limits” as well.

Of course we have tons of work to do between now and then and I’m looking forward to our first home football game this Saturday and to an exciting season of fall sports, lectures, and other activities. I hope to see you tailgating at Gamecock Park, or at the opening of My Carolina Alumni Center in the Vista, or right here…on the Horseshoe, my very favorite place of all. 

Have a wonderful year everyone and Go Gamecocks!  

Invite all to join the Mayberry’s in singing the alma mater.  

Please join me for a reception and cake in front of the McCutchen House in celebration of Carolina’s Promise.