President Pastides Delivers 2018 State of the University Address

October 3, 2018

Good morning everyone! Thank you, Taylor Wright – and the Mighty Sound of the Southeast, our Carolina Marching Band!

It’s so great to be with you on this fine morning...and to be here on the Horseshoe, the heart of our university. This storied ground has seen more than two centuries of history unfold. The buildings that stand here have borne witness to war, earthquakes, fire, and ESPN College Gameday! And generations of students have come and gone as the tide of modernity has moved forward.

In many places around our land, today, modernity is all that is valued, but here we try to lead our graduates into a complex, modern world, while offering them something solid and ancient to refer to and to learn from. This Horseshoe and this university provide a solid context from which our students can grow.

Today, we once again gather here to participate in an important tradition.

As I stand before you now for the 11th time, I’m honored and excited to reflect on where we have been and where we are and also share my hope about where our university can go. It’s a vision built on a foundation of optimism, accomplishment and faith in each other.

Many university family members and representatives are here and I am appreciative of them. Let me recognize members of the Board of Trustees: our Chairman John von Lehe Jr., Vice Chairman Hugh Mobley, Trustees Thad Westbrook and Robert Dozier, and Secretary J. Cantey Heath, Jr. I also recognize the Board of Visitors, including Chair Julia Mims and others in attendance; and the Carolina faculty, represented by the Chair of the Faculty Senate Professor Marco Valtorta.

In addition, I am delighted to welcome and thank members of my Community Advisory Council and my Student Advisory Council. Thanks to each of you. My sincere thanks to Student Body President Taylor Wright and Graduate Student Association President Jennifer Mandelbaum, and all of the student officers who advise and serve our university. They give me confidence about America’s future.

To the members of my Executive Leadership Team, thank you for your support and hard work for Carolina, and your commitment to efficiency and excellence.

To Patricia Moore-Pastides, who provides the constancy of goodness, grace and wise counsel through every year and all of their seasons. You’ve made the role as First Lady your own, made the President’s House a home, and fill it with hospitality and openness that reaches all who enter.

And, to our students – my interactions with you inspire me, they rejuvenate me in times of challenge, and they keep me moving forward. I have learned so much from you and you have made me a better President and a better person. Friends and colleagues, we started this journey at a time of great uncertainty and together we’ve led our state’s flagship university into an era of unrivaled confidence and success. And the university must now harness this momentum and drive even greater progress for the people of this state and our world.

No one can guess what the world will be like a decade from now, in the same way I could not fully predict ahead from August 2008. However, I can assure you that ten years from now, in 2028, our university will be different and better than today...stronger and more impactful. Because we must be.

Let us start with the cost of education. A decade from now our university must be more affordable, while not compromising great outcomes for our students. We are already known as pioneers of timely graduation through our “On Your Time” initiative. Ten years from now taking five and six years to get a college degree will be perceived as educational malpractice. And graduation in fewer than eight semesters will be a goal for a quickly growing number of freshmen.

Let me start with my own story. When I chose to attend an in-state public university, I don’t mind telling you that cost was a major factor. My parents estimated what it would cost for 4 years of college and somehow they always came up with it. Actually, I know how they did it – they did less and saved more. There were no summer vacations and no extras. In those days taking a loan was unthinkable and it was possible to avoid it by tightening the family’s belt. For many families today, that is not the case.

I wanted to help so I took an extra course some semesters, 18 credits instead of the standard 15, and I got some summer credits. I graduated in 3.5 years, saving my parents an entire semester of tuition, room and board. Not only that, but I worked during what would have been the spring of senior year and saved for grad school which I started at Yale the next fall. I say all of this to stress the importance of graduating in four years or less – and the important savings it provides to students and families. At our Columbia campus alone, half of our undergraduates graduate debt free. The average debt of those who do borrow is $28K; still too high, but lower than the state and national averages that approach $40K.

That’s why we’re taking “On Your Time” to the next level. Beginning this year, we are rapidly increasing the number of “On Your Time” course offerings. For example, during the winter session, students will be offered three-week courses, many online, which will fit conveniently into this calendar “down time.”

Second, our team is launching innovative three-year degree plans, as well as “plus one” masters programs that will streamline the time to get a bachelor's AND a graduate long as you take them both at USC. And students will be told about these pathways as freshmen. Of course, we will continue to emphasize the importance of not changing academic majors. The average undergrad changes majors 3+ times, which often prolongs graduation and cost. The freshman year is for academic experimentation, but a student should have a major in place by the first day of their sophomore year.

These and other efforts build upon our collective work which has more than doubled the number of students graduating within 8 semesters and increased the number of students graduating in three years by 170% since 2008.

I can assure you that ten years from now, in 2028, our university will be different and better than today...stronger and more impactful. Because we must be.

Over the next decade, we will do even better. Reducing unnecessary student debt by efforts to graduate in four years or less is a cornerstone of our commitment to greater affordability – the other is keeping internal costs under control, and keeping tuition increases as close to zero as possible. In 2013, we created the most affordable bachelor's degree in the state, by giving our students the option to attend one of our regional campuses or another two-year option, and then finish their degree online through Palmetto College.

Over the last five years, nearly 1,200 students have earned their degrees through Palmetto College’s online programs, and more than 29,000 seats have been filled by students across all 46 of the state’s counties in 14 different degree programs in high-demand, high-employment fields. Additionally, innovative pathways and scholarships, such as University of Possibilities, Gamecock Guarantee, and Opportunity Scholars support first generation and low-income students. Friends, education is a better head start to a successful life than anything else America has ever come up with.

To be clear, I’m committed to do everything we can to avoid raising tuition. However, the hard truth is that we need public support – and I’m more hopeful than I have been in a long while that the stars may be aligned. In May, the Higher Education Opportunity Act was introduced by Senator Vincent Sheheen, and co- sponsored by Senator Harvey Peeler. The proposal is to allocate a new source of funding, increasing state revenue from Internet sales, to public universities. In return, our institutions would agree to freeze instate tuition for instate students for one year and then cap increases.

There’s no doubt that this piece of legislation represents an historic reinvestment by our state, and the most significant step forward in higher education policy in more than a decade. I look forward to working with our state’s public university leaders on the Council of Presidents and members of the legislature this year to constrain future tuition increases for all South Carolina students and families.
In the meantime, our customers from in and out of the state are endorsing our educational product in record numbers. 

This year’s freshman class in Columbia is the largest and most academically talented class in our history. We welcomed 5,850 freshman this fall, up nearly 30% since 2008, and applications numbered over 30,000…which is up over 70% across the last decade.
 A 70% increase in applications?  If that is not an independent endorsement that a USC degree is needed and respected, I don’t know what is?

We are committed to enrolling 6,000 students by 2021. And we’re nearly there.

Across our system, the student body has grown to over 51,000, up 25% since 2008, and we pledge to enroll more South Carolinians and increase the number of underrepresented students each year. We’re already on it. In addition to being the state’s leader in both areas, our enrollment is up 7% over last year among South Carolinians, and up nearly 20% this year and 43% over the last two years among African Americans. I’m also proud that USC has been recognized among the Top 3% of universities for graduating African-American students; in fact, we’ve increased the African-American graduation rate by 17%, to 75% since 2008, which is more than twice the national average of 35%.

We will also continue to advance our leading work to ensure our graduates are equipped with the hard and soft skills to not only get their first job, but get promoted and to excel in the workplace. They will join the 100,000 graduates that have earned degrees over the last decade. In fact, when I think about the last decade, that’s what I’m most proud of. Over the last four years alone, over 1,500 of our students across the USC system have been recognized with Leadership Distinction at graduation (GLD). We will continue to increase the percentage of GLD graduates.

And within the next five years, 100% of our undergraduates will participate in at least one experiential learning opportunity and at least one in ten will participate in study abroad. In 2028, our students will continue to compete for and win prestigious recognitions. Since 2008, we’ve produced 62 National Science Foundation Research Fellows, 65 Fulbright Scholars, 19 Goldwater Scholars, two Truman Scholars one Marshall Scholar, and our 2017 Rhodes Scholar,, I mean Jory Fleming!

By 2028, the USC School of Medicine, Columbia, will be the cornerstone of a state of the art health sciences campus. This will bring us closer to our clinical partner, Palmetto Health, now Prisma Health, and advance critical pathways to enhance the health and well-being of all South Carolinians. Campus Village, which will transform the south side of our campus, will offer top-of-the-line facilities, including residence halls, shopping and dining amenities.

Lastly, our comprehensive Coliseum renovation will provide our students with a top-flight, multi-purpose student union unrivaled across America – with recreational and dining facilities, and space for student government, meetings, conferences, and academic collaboration. We are currently working with Student Government and Derek Gruner, our campus architect, to define what is possible and you will be hearing more about that.

We must also continue our vision towards a more pedestrian friendly campus, including new bike share programs, which will reduce the footprint of vehicles on our Columbia campus. They will be replaced by better and quicker transportation. One such vision espoused by Derrick Huggins, our Vice President for Facilities and Transportation, is a monorail system coming down from Campus Village to the center of campus – on quiet rubber wheels and running on solar power. Without vision the future is merely destined to be…well, like the past.

Still, I remain concerned about pedestrian traffic, especially students crossing Assembly Street. I am committed to working with our Student Advisory Council and Student Government Association to make this crossing and others on campus as safe as possible. Being vigilant is key, but we must continue to promote the use of the tunnel under Assembly St. and greater overall attention to safety, including discouraging cell phone use while crossing.

Of course, for all of this we need to work with our city, county and state partners. I would like to recognize our partnerships with the Mayor, city and county councils (Richland and Lexington), and the vibrant neighborhoods that surround us, like University Hill, Wheeler Hill, and others.

Thank you for working with us in these areas and others of mutual importance, including the troubling late-night issues in Five Points.
Allowing bars and clubs to continue to promote late night and early morning drinking as an inexpensive activity, with little regard for existing legal ordinances, places undue burdens on law enforcement, diminishes the quality of life for nearby residents and endangers our students. I’m pleased that we have had some recent successes in strengthening ordinances and their enforcement.

The next decade is also a period to increase and leverage the efficiency, effectiveness and collective strength of our 8 campuses and 19 locations – from our stellar, comprehensive four-year campuses in Aiken, Beaufort and Spartanburg, our two-year Palmetto College campuses in Lancaster, Salkehatchie, Sumter and Union and our newest School of Medicine in Greenville – to positively impact all South Carolinians, particularly as we advance our current $5.5 billion economic impact and the 1 in 35 jobs we support throughout the state.

It’s this broad tapestry that makes us one University of South Carolina – and one South Carolina.

I’m more hopeful today than the day Patricia and I opened the front door behind me to cross the Horseshoe to Osborne for the first time.

A decade from now, we will continue to thrive in a culture that unifies us, which is built on a foundation of initiatives such as the Welcome Table, Dive-In Lunches and the “Finding Common Ground” series, and why we’ve been recognized with the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity Award for seven consecutive years. We will honor what we value by promoting greater inclusion across our entire USC system, as well as championing a diverse and inclusive work environment whereby people from various cultures, gender, race and religions are valued, included, supported and rewarded – and are represented at all levels of the organization.

We will also further our commitment to work with local and minority-owned vendors and businesses to advance common projects and pursuits. I would like to express thanks to John Dozier and my Community Advisory Committee, including I.S. Leevy Johnson for helping to lead us on this path. This past year we were also recognized as #67 on Forbes’ 2018 list of America’s Best Employers – No. 2 among flagships nationally and No. 1 in South Carolina. I believe the efforts of Healthy Carolina have contributed to our success in this area.

A decade from now, our national reputation will help us continue to attract world-class faculty and staff by being a premier employer of choice. We’ve increased the total number of tenure and tenure-track faculty by nearly 25% over the last decade. It too is bigger, better and more diverse. Representation matters, and we are committed to increasing the number of underrepresented faculty each year, as well as doing more and better with diversity officers in every academic unit to support inclusion efforts across our university community. Last month, Provost Gabel and I had the opportunity to welcome over 100 new faculty to our Columbia campus, mostly tenure and tenure-track professors across our many colleges. 

I’m proud to report that we are in the Top 1% of patent-producing universities in the world, and one of only 40 public universities to simultaneously achieve top-tier research and community engagement designations from Carnegie. Thanks to our Vice President for Research, Dr. Prakash Nagarkatti and the deans for aspiring to even loftier faculty research accomplishments. And thanks to he and his colleagues, by the way, for their work leading to FDA approval of a new treatment for autoimmune hepatitis. Congratulations.

I am likewise pleased that Dr. Nagarkatti has committed to increase research expenditures to $225 million by 2023.

And USCreativity, a yearlong effort led by Professor David Cutler, will encourage the entire Carolina community to work together in new and creative ways, including the Great Gamecock Design Challenge. Similarly, Bill Kirkland and the Office of Economic Engagement are harnessing our entrepreneurial spirit to advance public-private partnerships with Fortune 100 companies, and technology startups that have ideas that capture the imagination and are poised to change the world.

In June, we welcomed SIOS Technology to our USC/Columbia Technology Incubator, and just last week we announced a partnership with four Fortune 100 partners to celebrate the grand opening of our Digital Transformation Lab at the McNair Research Center.
These burgeoning relationships, along with those we’ve established over the last decade with Boeing, IBM, Samsung, Fluor, and Siemens are great examples of how USC and private industry are working together with benefits to so many.

And the breadth and prestige of these victories will be matched by the success we achieve in our arenas and on our playing fields.
In the decade ahead, we will add to the three NCAA Championships we’ve won during the last decade – and we will win more SEC championships and more Bowl Games when compared to the last 10 years, which were, in sum, more than all prior years combined!

It’s not an exaggeration that we’re enjoying the greatest period of success in Gamecock athletics history, and I have no doubt that we are poised to continue this excellence over the next decade. It’s also not an exaggeration that our entire Carolina community stands ready to welcome A’ja Wilson back for a statue dedication ceremony at USC’s Colonial Life Arena. That was, perhaps, the easiest fundraiser we’ve ever had!

At the dawn of the University of South Carolina’s next ten years, we forge ahead with a shared vision that will make us even stronger and more impactful than we are today.

I’m more hopeful today than the day Patricia and I opened the front door behind me to cross the Horseshoe to Osborne for the first time. Friends, the world we know today is not one that I could fully foresee on August 1, 2008, and yes, that’s how long it’s been.

On August 1st, I marked my ten-year anniversary as your President. A small moment with big meaning for me.

No one can expect the good fortune to serve in any position for ten years – it’s a significant amount of time in any personal career, let alone a college president serving in turbulent times. But as important a milestone as this is for me personally, it’s more importantly a reminder about the ways we’ve stood strong and resilient through many challenges and many storms to create an even greater university from the great one it was ten years ago.

Patricia and I would like to thank all members of the Carolina community who have helped guide our university on this incredible ten-year journey and we want to tell you today that we intend to move on to a new chapter of our lives next summer, after 11 years in this office on July 31, 2019. 

There is never a perfect time for an announcement like this and, let me tell you, when Hurricane Florence canceled the State of the University on September 12, more than once I wondered whether that was a sign that this announcement was not meant to be.
More pertinently, perhaps, there is never a perfect time for a decision like this. Our progress is continuing, there is much work to be done, we have high energy, and we love our work. So, then, why?

The reasons, dear friends and colleagues, are both personal and professional.

On the personal side, we simply do not have the time to spend with family and friends that we always expected to have at this age and time of our lives. We now have six and four-year old granddaughters and we have missed celebrating many of their birthdays and holidays with them. Patricia and I have one parent left and opportunities to visit are limited. An evening or a weekend with friends or even attending the wedding of a friend’s child, usually comes down to months of planning or a difficult decision to miss a university event. I think you can understand that.

On the professional side, Carolina is sailing ahead and there is realistic hope for agreement with state government, as I said earlier, about a path to more secure funding that could negate tuition increases, and we are introducing a new budget model, one that I’m excited about, but also one that will take several years to fine tune and adapt. Finally, I have no doubt that USC is in a strong position, now, to recruit an able leader who has all the “right stuff” to take the reins and, hopefully, accelerate our progress.

Still, this has been a tough decision for Patricia and me. Now is not the time to reflect fully on our time here but I want to share a few observations and feelings of gratitude with you, our beloved community.  We gave a lot to our university community, in fact we gave all we could. We gave all we had.

But, if I may say, we also kept all that we gave. Everyone knows that it’s better to give than receive. It’s also true that you get more than you give, and we are living proof of that. Patricia and I saw that each and every day of the presidency. Each and every day the sacrifices we made were replenished with joy and satisfaction.

There is nothing more powerful and more motivating than a conversation, a high five, a selfie, or a “thank you” from a Gamecock student. And of those, we drank freely from a never-empty cup.

Our fatigue was lifted by the “Thank You’s” and pats on the back from so many alumni…. Our travels to so many places on Gamecock 1 were rewarded by friends and donors who gave more, in many cases, than we were prepared to ask for. After a contest, when we took our sweaty garments off, our thoughts lingered on being cheered and buoyed by the fans, always hopeful, always loyal in both victory and defeat, whether at Williams-Brice, at One Wood Farms, or at a Final Four.

We were rewarded by the support of our Trustees, even in the face of difficult decisions that confronted the realities of shifting winds and attitudes about higher education. Our Trustees are masterful in helping navigate between the pulls and pushes of competing needs and, out of state, low tuition hikes vs. having resources with which to excel, the needs of the campus in Columbia, and also those throughout our USC system.

I was bolstered so many times, and even rescued, by my executive leadership team in Osborne and the system Chancellors as they bore my burdens on a daily basis, helping us come up with fair and creative solutions to challenges that were crushing many other universities, and continue to do so.

And we were embraced and, cared for unconditionally by those who saw us at our best and worst moments – our house staff, gardeners, food and flower preparers, grounds crew and maintenance workers, the pilots, Special Events and Law Enforcement professionals – who made the house, the campus, and both of us look good and arrive on time whether we actually knew all that was really going on or not.

But there is little doubt that the greatest rewards came from the students. There is nothing more powerful and more motivating than a conversation, a high five, a selfie, or a “thank you” from a Gamecock student. And of those, we drank freely from a never-empty cup.
Serving our undergrad and graduate students, here and throughout the system, and watching them graduate, has been the privilege of my lifetime. There have been nearly 100,000 who entered the alumni ranks since we arrived and that’s about one-third of all living alumni. Every one of them educated and sent off to succeed, like our very own children.

Last Thursday Patricia and I were at Charlotte-Douglas Airport and a young woman came over and introduced herself as a recent alumna.  We took a selfie for “old times sake” and she tweeted it, so I now know her name is Mandy Sims. I guess there will be a lot of “for old time sake” things in our future and I guess everything will feel different. Who knows, maybe I’ll walk up to people wearing Gamecock clothing at airports and ask them for a selfie!

But we will walk unafraid into the future, knowing that we have received enough blessings for a lifetime during our time here, as Professor, Dean, Vice President, and President and First Lady. No doubt, there will be ample time for celebrating and reminiscing as we approach the summer of 2019.

And, by the way, we don’t plan to go far and, after a break, we may even find new ways to serve Carolina.

But in the meantime, and in the words of Robert Frost, “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep, and miles to go before I sleep.”

Thank you everyone for being with us here, today.

Forever to thee. 
Harris Pastides