President Harris Pastides' prepared remarks for the 2016 State of the University

Thank you and good morning to all. For the ninth consecutive year, I have the great honor of sharing with all of you the State of our University. And while we're disappointed not to be on our revered Horseshoe (tropical storm Julia had her way), the Russell House is a near perfect venue as it is the heart of student life at our university. 

Thank you Michael [Parks] for your tremendous leadership of the student body. Your initiatives for this year are ambitious, important, and energizing. I'm especially appreciative of your leadership of the It's On Us Campaign aimed at preventing sexual assault by promoting  personal responsibility. Of course, I look forward to our bowling challenge on October 5. You see, ladies and gentlemen, Michael and I will each be captaining our squads — student government vs. administration. Fair warning Michael, we've been practicing! 

And surely there's nothing like the Mighty Sound of the Southeast to help us set the tone for the future. They are experts in revving up a crowd. And as we thank our band members and our marching band conductor Dr. Cormac Cannon, I'd also like to express our appreciation for the band's moving video tribute to LSU — an SEC family member who experienced an epic flood a few weeks ago. Your video was seen by more than five million viewers and you were called a "class act." You are that and more. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in thanking the Mighty Sound of the Southeast, the Carolina Marching Band. 

What kind of 21st century university do our students need to help them become the workforce-ready graduates and the leaders that our state and nation deserve? That is the 21st century university we are working to be, and that is what I want to share with you today.


I am appreciative of those here who help lead our flagship university on our eight campuses and 18 locations. Let me recognize members of the Board of Trustees: our newly appointed Chairman Jon von Lehe Jr. , Vice-Chairman Hugh Mobley, Board Members Tommy Cofield, William Hubbard, Wes Jones, Thad Westbrook and Secretary Amy Stone.  

I also recognize the Board of Visitors including Chair Chip Felkel and Vice-Chair Julia Mims; our Alumni Association Board of Governors, led by President Tommy Preston; and the Carolina faculty represented by the chair of the Faculty Senate, Professor Augie Grant. I warmly welcome and thank members of my Community Advisory Council, my Student Advisory Council and my Community Athletic Advisory Council. Thanks to you.

And I would also like to recognize and thank the members of my Executive Leadership Team and the deans of the university who are vital to our progress. Finally, it's a joy to recognize Patricia Moore-Pastides who does so much for so many, often behind the scenes, but whose deeds never go unnoticed by me. Thank you, Patricia.    

As I start, I want you to know that the lens through which I am reporting to you, is the lens that focuses on our students. It focuses on our freshmen, our transfers, our Gateways, our Capstones, our Honors students, our Palmetto College on-line students, our athletes, our graduate students — in other words, all of our students here in Columbia and throughout our entire USC system, that is the flagship of higher education in the Palmetto State. 

I see the future through this lens and I ask that you look through this lens as well. What kind of 21st century university do our students need to help them become the workforce-ready graduates and the leaders that our state and nation deserve? That is the 21st century university we are working to be, and that is what I want to share with you today. And I hope I don't seem immodest when I say that we have been developing the standards and the benchmarks for that 21st century university for some time now — we started with Focus Carolina. Shortly after its launch, we experienced a record recession. Yet, throughout, we kept our sights on our benchmarks and goals and today we are closer than ever to being that university. How do I know that? 

In fact, we have just enrolled the most academically talented freshman class in our university's history.  


I know that because 
we're bucking enrollment trends: students continue to apply and matriculate here in record numbers. More than 25,000 students applied to be a member of the freshman class here in Columbia.  

I know that because our student body is drawn from all 50 states and 105 nations. 

I know that because the great majority of our students come here as their first choice and not as a back-up plan — even though they have lots of other fine public and private offers. 

In fact, we have just enrolled the most academically talented freshman class in our university's history.  

  • The SAT score of all freshmen is 1215 — a 5-point gain over last year. 
  • Our 965 Capstone Scholars registered a 4-point gain with an SAT of 1315. 
  • And our 500 South Carolina Honors College students bring a 1442 SAT average and an 11-point gain over last year.

These are the largest gains we have seen in some time and we did it while growing their ranks. Any university can achieve similar SAT gains by getting smaller, but we achieved growth — to serve more students — while experiencing an increase in the academic credentials of the entering class. 

We award more bachelor's, master's, professional and doctoral degrees to African-American students than any other university in the state by far. 


You might say, "Good for you, you're admitting better students, but what are you doing with them?" And that part of the story, friends, pleases me even more. First of all, our retention and our graduation rates are higher than ever. I attribute that to a redesign of the academic advisement system, as I described last year, we have contributed to their success in greater measure than ever before. 

I am also very pleased that we are in the top 3% of universities in the United States who graduate the most African-American students. What better way to contribute to social and economic equality than by providing opportunities through a college degree for all our citizens. In fact, we award more bachelor's, master's, professional and doctoral degrees to African-American students than any other university in the state by far. 

And we have been relentless in driving all students to graduate on time. Our On Your Time Graduation program is critical in helping students get a jump on life and career, while limiting financial debt and related burdens. We want our students to see their academic career not in terms of four or more annual cycles, but as 120 credits to be earned on or off cycle, on their time, not on ours — on a schedule that suits their dreams, their plans, and their families' bank accounts. 

I'm thrilled to tell you that more than 600 courses, including nearly 50 Carolina Core Courses were offered during the summer months and we saw a 17% growth in enrollment over the summer before. This summer, nearly 9,000 students availed themselves of the opportunity to catch up or get ahead.  

I also know that we are modeling the 21st century university because many national rankings confirm it.


We're not the stodgy university of the past. 20th century universities liked it when their students would take an extra semester or year to finish. Of course they did. They took in more tuition. It's like the hotel manager who's happy that you're extending your stay. They always say, "We'd be delighted!" We, however, are delighted when our students graduate in four or fewer years. We now offer students "tough love" as soon as they enroll. As I always say, "Freshman year is for locking down your major so experiment academically to make sure. But when you return for your sophomore year, have a major and stick with it. If you do that, and work hard, we will help you graduate on your time." 

I also know that we are modeling the 21st century university because many national rankings confirm it. I hesitate to tell you what I'm about to — even though it's a great story. It's about our highest ever ranking and recognitions. And while they are gratifying, they don't motivate me like the other metrics I'm sharing with you. Some rankings are not objective enough, others are self-serving to the raters, and nearly all of them are driven by profits. Still: 

  • U.S. News & World Report Ranks USC as THE top global university in South Carolina and we have also earned a spot on U.S. News rankings as one of the top 27 public flagship universities in the nation. 
  • We are one of only 32 public universities to receive both the top-tier research designation and the top-tier community engagement designation from the Carnegie Foundation. 
  • University Business Magazine named us as one of only ten universities that "Model Excellence" and a place where "student success initiatives are making a difference." 
  • U.S. News ranked USC's University 101 freshman seminar as one of the best first-year experiences in the nation.  
  • Kiplinger honors USC as one of the "Best Values among Public Colleges." 
  • And I just received word, on my way across campus this morning, that our Honors College has once again been ranked the best in the nation!
  • U.S. News also ranks our comprehensive campuses among the top public regional colleges in the South. Aiken is ranked No. 1 (and also the No. 1 best regional college in the South for veterans), USC Upstate is ranked No. 2 (and is ranked the No. 2 best regional college in the South for veterans, as well as being named one of the top 5 most diverse higher education institutions in South Carolina) and USC Beaufort is ranked No. 6. 

And in addition to rankings, the strength of our University has prompted our generous donors, for the ninth consecutive year, to donate more than $100 million annually.   

Of course, a 21st century university assembles a faculty that produces scholarship and research at the very highest level. And we are doing that as a "Research I" university. It would have been understandable if, during the recession, with so much competition from the nation's top institutions, our faculty's scholarly productivity had dipped or paused. But that's not how it played out. Instead, this year, our faculty set a new record for research and sponsored awards, bringing in more than a quarter billion dollars in external funding from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.  

The potential impact of these awards is clearly illustrated in the impressive grant received by Professor Julius Fridriksson from the NIH this past April. At $11.1 million, this is one of the largest grants ever received at USC, and it's in one of the most competitive areas of funding. But that's not even the best part. Julius and his colleagues will use the funding to establish the Center for the Study of Aphasia Recovery which will, in turn, span four research sites, here at the Arnold School of Public Health, and at MUSC, John Hopkins and UC Irvine. Julius will you stand and be recognized? 

Our faculty have also developed critical partnerships with IBM, Boeing and with hundreds of smaller businesses around the state. And our entrepreneurial spirit is bubbling — in fact, the National Academy of Inventors recognized USC as being in the top 100 universities in the world that were granted U.S. patents. This puts us in the company of MIT, Stanford, Princeton and Yale. 

In addition, programs like the Columbia/USC Technology Incubator, the Salkehatchie Leadership Institute, the USC Upstate George Dean Johnson Jr. College of Business and Economics, and the Small Business Development Centers in Aiken and Beaufort are helping locally owned businesses birth more successful startups. 

And we're not only about science and technology. Our faculty in Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences, and professional schools are providing the kind of knowledge that has always differentiated great societies from simply good ones. For example, Assistant Professor Jennifer Frey, in our Department of Philosophy, and her colleague at the University of Chicago, have been awarded a $2.1 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study the connections between virtue, happiness and the meaning of human life in society. Jennifer has told me that the study of Aristotle is as relevant and fresh today as it has ever been. Jennifer please stand and be recognized.  

I'm here to tell you that we are not yet finished working on the new 21st century university model. Nor can I see any university around me that has perfected that model, and I continue to visit and study many universities.


A 21st century university also offers an environment where all employees have an opportunity to build a rewarding and enduring career. Human resources continues to work to create a place where our employees can continue to be life-long learners by enrolling in courses or personal development programs. We will also continue to increase healthy lifestyle and personal fitness classes for our staff. Of course we care deeply about the salary levels of our employees and we will work with state government to give us the flexibility of doing even more for those at the lowest tier of our salary structure.  

By now you might be thinking that I've been overly optimistic. You might be thinking, "Okay, I get it. He's going to give us a lot of brag points and then invite us for refreshments." You would be right about the refreshments. But, I'm not here to brag. In fact, I'm here to tell you that we are not yet finished working on the new 21st century university model. Nor can I see any university around me that has perfected that model, and I continue to visit and study many universities. So, if we don't see another model, how do we sharpen our lens? How do we continue to refine and improve? I would say that the model must be fine-tuned to what the 21st century graduate needs. That is the only model worth pursuing.  

And this is what that graduate looks like to me. The 21st century grad is one who is: 

  • classically educated in the core arts and science, regardless of major
  • workforce ready 
  • creative and innovative ready, and also 
  • leadership ready.

Let me repeat that if I may.  

One strategic initiative that she will be sharing more about this year is in Health Sciences as we set our goal on being the best university in the region — and perhaps anywhere — if you wish to pursue a great job and a great life as a health professional.

We have been sculpting and molding our strategic plan in concert with our Board of Trustees, with counsel from our Board of Visitors and of course with the faculty and other academic leaders. Our Provost, Joan Gabel, has been here for a year and has joined that effort and is working with our faculty and academic leaders and is making a great impact. We're lucky that she has joined our other exceptional leaders. 

One strategic initiative that she will be sharing more about this year is in Health Sciences as we set our goal on being the best university in the region — and perhaps anywhere — if you wish to pursue a great job and a great life as a health professional. Why wouldn't we choose to do that? The state's health care needs are profound and the job market is hopping.

We plan to offer our undergraduates unique advantages and a jump on preparation. This will make it difficult to pass up a USC offer of admission if you're planning on a health career. Want to be a doctor? We have two medical schools, one at Greenville Health Systems and, of course, our 40-year strong medical school right here in Columbia. And I have good news, we are ready to announce the location for a new Medical School Campus in Columbia. Stay tuned for that announcement very soon.  

If your choice is public health, we have the only accredited school in the state. And I'm pleased to announce that the Arnold School of Public Health will be opening a satellite campus at the Greenville Health System this year. Social work, pharmacy, or nursing? We have award-winning and expanding programs. You'll be hearing a lot more about our Health Sciences initiative in the coming months. 

The 21st century university must also be a force for inclusivity and for advancing the unity of our communities and state. America is awash in conflict and ill-mannered debate. We face the real threat of war, terrorism, racial conflict and economic disparity. Though it may be tempting, the University of South Carolina will not run away from these problems. We will be a host and honest broker for open and vigorous debate, and we will continue to champion our constitutional right to free speech. In fact, I believe that college must be a time for challenging conventions and studying ideas and concepts that are new — even if they are at odds with established norms. Yet we must also encourage respect for members of our Carolina family who have differing backgrounds and viewpoints. 

We can and must find ways to achieve harmony within this difficult balance not only because it's right; it's also exactly what our constituents ask of us — especially our students' parents who repeatedly share this concern with me. They tell me that we must have an atmosphere where students can explore and discover new truths without abandoning the values and truths that have characterized our nation since its founding. To that end, we have spent the past year holding listening forums and taking climate surveys. We have created the Welcome Table SC. We will continue to listen and act where appropriate. 

The 21st century university must also enforce a high standard of conduct among our students. This is why we've been working with them to develop a Social Compact to address the importance of exemplary behavior and what it means to be a member of the Carolina community and the broader community. 

We won't flinch in addressing alcohol and drug abuse, sexual assault or hazing. There will be fair but clear consequences when poor judgement by individuals or organizations leads to abusive, dangerous or illegal behaviors. When social activities move from fun to demeaning and dangerous ... when they become the backdrop that leads to the abuse of women ... and when our Columbia friends feel uncomfortable being our neighbors, it's time for all of us to stand up and say stop. We will require that students be safe to themselves and others while being respectful of our community.

It is imperative that we work with state government to reshape and redesign a new financial reality that is sensitive to the limited resources of South Carolina's students and their families.


I'm asking our Athletic Director Ray Tanner to take on an additional role in student affairs by serving as a mentor and spokesperson to help guide all students, not just student athletes, to comport themselves at the highest standards. Not to be perfect, but to know right from wrong. 

I also want to assure that our university takes into account the financial needs of our students' families every single day. It is imperative that we work with state government to reshape and redesign a new financial reality that is sensitive to the limited resources of South Carolina's students and their families. Parents tell me that they are willing to help pay for their children's tuition because they see the results and the value of a degree. And they know that tuition increases at Carolina have been relatively moderate — no more than 3.25% in the past five years. But they also ask that tuition increases be reined in. I agree with that goal and I accept that challenge.   

We will continue to provide affordable pathways like the Gamecock Guarantee and many other programs that keep the net cost of attendance well below the published tuition rate. 

It's important to note that 46% of our students do not borrow at all. Of those that do, the average debt is $28,233, which is below both the state and national averages, and that figure is even lower for in-state students. In addition, our students are repaying their debt — USC Columbia's three-year cohort default rate is only 4.1% compared to 11.8% nationally. We will continue to look at methods of revenue generation beyond our students, as well as tuition pricing policies that favor the majority of students. And we have great financial analysts behind us. We recently received an impressive recognition, the Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting for the fifth consecutive year. My thanks to Leslie Brunelli and Ed Walton. 

A contemporary 21st century student must also attend a university committed to community engagement and public service. And our students will find that here. Last October we provided compassionate outreach during the flooding of Columbia. Student leader Cory Alpert and his flood relief team organized an impressive movement of 2,000 student volunteers. Their untiring community service brought in letters and emails of appreciation from grateful citizens who praised their Gamecock spirit. Cory, will you please stand and be recognized?  

And students must also see their university leading the way in being culturally engaged with the broader community. I'm told over and over again by our neighbors in the Midlands that USC is a major reason they will never leave. They may have come here to study, to work, or for the military, but they plan to spend their lives here.

Many, like me, were especially delighted to view one of Shakespeare's few surviving copies of the First Folio at the Hollings Special Collection Library last April. Others sat in on two televised primary election forums produced by CNN at the Law School. And, by the way, Marina Lomazov, Maestro Donald Portnoy, and the USC Symphony were absolutely splendid last night at the Koger Center. It was a night to remember.

And at the state level, our eight campuses and our alumni contribute over $4 billion to the state's economy every year and support one in every 37 jobs in South Carolina.


Of course, in addition to performance, art, lectures, and politics, the Midlands and nearly 300,000 worldwide alumni are enthusiastic Gamecock fans. They cheer for our student athletes, led by our amazing coaches, so many of whom are here today. Coaches, will you please stand? As our coaches and Athletic Director Ray Tanner know so well, our fans live and die with Gamecock athletics! It's no wonder that the city of Columbia recently secured the No. 3 spot as one of the ten best college towns in the country. Others on the list included Ann Arbor and Cambridge, so I'm guessing that great pork barbeque was not one of the criteria! 

And at the state level, our eight campuses and our alumni contribute over $4 billion to the state's economy every year and support one in every 37 jobs in South Carolina. In fact, it's estimated that for every dollar invested in higher education, $25 is returned to the state's economy.  

So as I close, I'm proud to say that we've had a great year together. We've worked hard and been successful. We should expect no less in the year ahead. As always, we learn from our failures. We will try to avoid them but not fear them. I like many things that Winston Churchill had to say, especially this, "Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts."  

I learned a lot personally last year. Through my NCAA role I learned that intercollegiate athletes is about much more than sports on TV. It is about the 460,000 American student athletes on 19,000 teams who gain leadership skills that reward them for life, while having the time of their life in college.  

I learned about the power of social media when an innocently filmed piece that I taped about millennial jargon, attracted more than 1.6 million impressions. Likely more than anything else I ever said or did. 

I learned that when the Board of Trustees, the administration, the faculty, staff, students and alumni come together in common purpose, the momentum and power to achieve great things is unstoppable. 

In closing, the university of the 21st century must be more like ... well ... like the University of South Carolina we already know and love, even as we strive to do even more and do it even better.  


Finally, I was reminded time and time again how much I love this university, and the reminders were not the strongest during major events like convocation or commencement, the strongest reminders followed high fives or selfies in front of the Russell House, or sharing pizza with my student advisory council, or even hearing from parents about their families' own experiences at Carolina, and I am sure I will again this Friday as Parent's Weekend begins. These reminders are powerful and they provide the energy that sustains my work.  

So, in closing, the university of the 21st century must be more like ... well ... like the University of South Carolina we already know and love, even as we strive to do even more and do it even better.  

It is my great pleasure to serve as your president.  We have lots of work to do and we have an exciting year ahead. So let's go do it. Have a wonderful year and Go Gamecocks! Thank you.