Introductory Press Conference Prepared Remarks
July 22, 2019
Thank you, Luke for that wonderful introduction. And thanks to all of you for being here today. I am truly honored and humbled to serve as the 29th president of the University of South Carolina.
I do not take lightly the trust and confidence you have placed in me. This is a remarkable university with an amazing community of students, faculty, staff and alumni.
I am fully aware that some viewed the pathway to get here was imperfect, and still others would have preferred a different outcome.
I also know that I have big shoes to fill in that President Harris Pastides is loved dearly by students and throughout the university community. (After having spent some time with Harris including three phone calls this weekend, I can see why.)
I also know that the success of this university and the university system is not just dependent on me. It is dependent on how well we all work together.
Leadership, as I have come to learn throughout my career, is not all about taking action. It is about listening, questioning, learning and collaborating so that the actions we do take are well informed and in the best interest of the entire organization. My pledge to all of you is that we will engage, we will listen, we will learn and we will work together to advance the cause of this university and the university system.
One of my first acts to better understand the opportunities and challenges ahead was to ask university officials for all the comments and reviews, good and bad, that were surfaced throughout the selection process (with the names of individuals redacted). Now the outreach process has begun...
My pledge to all of you is that we will engage, we will listen, we will learn and we will work together to advance the cause of this university and the university system.
First thing this morning we met with a cross section of students. They were terrific.
During the balance of the day and through Wednesday, I will meet with faculty, staff, alumni, university contributors, community leaders and others.
That process does not end this week. It will continue. Every one of our stakeholders deserves a voice, and every member of Team Carolina should not only feel valued, they should know that they are valued.
People have asked me why in the world would you want to come to South Carolina after such controversy, that is a question I have also asked myself many times. The honest answer: the students.
I love education. Moreover, I love what it does for young men and women from all walks of life – who aspire to better themselves through education, and who want to give back to their communities.
This next generation inspires me. They come to a university not only to take the requisite hours to earn a degree and get a job. They are eager to engage and make a difference in the world.
With regard to that mission: I am all in.
We need to provide them the best education possible, and do so affordably – whether that is in the sciences and engineering, in business or in the arts. We want our students to explore their every potential and provide them the education to achieve it.
I use the word “every” because everyone can achieve and make difference. Our Nation and State are becoming more diverse by the day. If we fail to represent that diversity at the University of South Carolina, we not only fail those who are diverse we fail the principles and values of this great university. As a leader, I have long valued diversity in all its facets – race, ethnicity, creed, gender and sexual orientation and diversity of thought (this last one being especially important in the context of academic freedom at a university). I found it essential to include on my teams diverse individuals and people with points of view that differed from my own. I am proud to share that we hired West Point’s first Diversity and Inclusion Officer, a black male. We hired the first female Provost and the first female Dean of Student Affairs. At every level of the university – students, staff and faculty – we were more diverse at the end of my service than we were on day one.
So what does this mean? It means you can expect that same intensity and commitment to diversity and inclusion at the University of South Carolina. We need the hearts, minds and talents of everyone.
In order for everyone to learn and grow, we need a safe environment. Much of my career has focused on making the military and the Academy a safer place for women and diverse individuals. One of those primary safety concerns is sexual abuse. I have seen up close the trauma caused and met with victims who have had their human dignity betrayed. I care so deeply about this that I have testified before Congress on the issue and volunteered my efforts to address it. In Co-Chairing the NCAA Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence with Davidson College’s President Carol Quillen, we learned that you have to do more than address specific cases; it requires getting at root causes and being vigilant about culture and environment. One of a leader's most challenging roles today is to create an environment, especially on a university campus, that does not shy away from talking about proactive and community-minded actions that can eliminate sexual violence. That means open conversations with students on campus, and working with local officials and political leaders off campus so they too will address safety issues in the broader community.
Let me be clear about my comments in April. I never intended to shift the responsibility for sexual assault onto the shoulders of victims. There is never any excuse for sexual assault. These crimes are committed when one human being decides to violate the human dignity of another. I want to apologize to those who felt I was blaming any victims. That was the furthest thing from my intended words, and I am sorry to those who felt otherwise.
In the interview process, the Board and others asked about my vision for the university. My initial response was to talk about a vision that included a laundry list from expanded research to perhaps making a bid to become an AAU university; but our vision cannot just be my vision. It needs to be a comprehensive vision shared by all of us.
I want to be true to what I stated earlier. I want to listen, learn and assess before we create that vision – and shortly after assessing, together we will develop a vision that is our collective vision not just mine.
A common theme for me is that we are better together – and together we will make the University of South Carolina one of the preeminent universities in the United States.
I want to listen, learn and assess before we create that vision – and shortly after assessing, together we will develop a vision that is our collective vision not just mine.
As we begin our journey together, one things is clear: the higher education landscape is changing dramatically. Institutions like ours must be fully engaged in leading that change, and getting ourselves ahead of the bow wave on what the future demands – looking at effective ways of using technology to make education affordable and accessible – so that every man and woman who can attend the University of South Carolina can afford to.
Strong partnerships with business, government and others are also likely to be key in bringing universities to the next level, both in curriculum, research, and facilities. This is necessary to not only provide 21st Century pedagogy, it greatly enables student success, retention, persistence, graduation, and ultimately a smooth transition into meaningful careers.
That said, before I take your questions let me share three near-term priorities for me and three behavioral guides that give you sense of what I am passionate about and believe in.
First, my near-term focus beyond listening and learning will be on:
- Academic excellence
With regard to academic excellence, I want to make the University of South Carolina a place where top scholars want to come, stay and contribute; and see the reputation of our university and its programs continue to rise. Selecting the next Provost will be key in this effort.
With regard to research, I want to build from the strengths of the university and the state’s economy and go after more research dollars. We have a number of large domestic and international companies in the state with a significant presence, we have four large military institutions, and, as a university, we have the #1 international business program in the country and strengths across a number of disciplines from the sciences and engineering to psychology and public health. I also am keen for more student-centered research that creates additional opportunities for students to learn, intern and gain valuable work experience.
You have already heard me on diversity and inclusion. They are very important to me and should be to all of us. To underscore that importance, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, like at West Point, will report directly to me. As consider key roles within the university, you will see diverse slates. You will see us reach out to diverse groups, you will see me engaged on the subject, and we will strive to create an inclusive environment for everyone – so the university and its students and faculty can attain their fullest potential.
Let me conclude by sharing three behaviors that guide me.
First and foremost: Character. I believe in the values of honor, integrity, duty, respect, selfless service, and moral and physical courage. These values have driven me all my life and in everything I’ve done – and you can expect nothing different while here at the university.
Second: Excellence. Excellence is doing everything to the upper level of your potential with the self-discipline to drive you there. The opposite of excellence is mediocrity. I do not believe in being average. A great university requires excellence. I will expect it of myself. I will look forward to seeing throughout our university.
Third: Pride. As with any team, it is important as we work together and excel – whether on a field of play or a science lab or a stage – that we recognize and celebrate that achievement. Though few would be sweeter, I am told, than a victory against Clemson.
That said, let acknowledge my greatest pride and achievement my beautiful wife of 43 years – Shelly Caslen. She has been with me through thick and thin, survived many moves, she has cried many a tear comforting numerous spouses, raised three incredible young men, and despite everything is still here beside me. I love you Hon.
Before I take the media’s questions, I do have one request. Everyone, please call me: “Bob”. While I am proud of my career and service in the U.S. Army and honored to be referred to as “General”. I prefer that you simply call me Bob. Is that okay?
So, let me wrap this up with where I started. It is an honor to serve as the next President of the University of South Carolina. I acknowledge the trust and confidence placed in me; and will do my best to earn it by reaching out to all segments of the university community. I cannot wait to get started.
Thank you. Now, I am happy to take your questions.