When Harris Pastides first became president of the University of South Carolina, he did so with the goal of increasing student engagement and providing opportunities for leadership.
That was four years ago and that goal is stronger now than ever. Pastides, USC’s 28th president, maintains his vision for the university through initiatives like Palmetto College, Back to Carolina and Gamecock Gateway. And with the success of the University’s Honors College and business school, I’d say he’s not far off. This week, I sat down with our president to discuss USC’s future and how he motivates students.
Jumping right in…
Kiante Chapman: Describe your presidency in one word.
Harris Pastides: One word? I would use the word privileged. I was going to use challenging as my word but I thought it might give a negative connotation, a more fearful or frustrated tone. It is challenging, that’s a good word, but I like the challenge. So if I say to you, how’s your calculus course and you say challenging, I would think that you’re struggling with a C. By saying privileged it gives a different tone. I said privileged but challenging is a good word too.
KC: So challenging in a good way?
HP: Yes! Challenging in a good way, correct.
KC: When you and your wife first came to USC, did you guys have a specific vision or is there something in particular that you wanted to have happen or to do?
HP: We wanted to make an impact on students mainly and on the university community and we wanted to work together. We’ve never worked together in our lives. We’ve worked separately and we wanted to work together as a team.
KC: Do you believe that that has happened? Have you guys been able to do that?
HP: Definitely. We work together as a team. We do things separately but with one common purpose, which is to advance the university.
KC: So do you guys brainstorm on issues then branch apart? How does that work?
HP: No, we don’t brainstorm together. If I’m having a challenge I may consult with her like President Obama would with Michelle. And if she is confronted with a challenge, I consult with her. We don’t have to do that very often, though, because there are very few issues that she and I are co-leading.
KC: How do you hope that the university will continue to evolve?
HP: I hope that it will evolve both as an accessible and affordable place for working class families to send their students but also continue to evolve as one of America’s top academic universities with the Honors College and the Moore School of Business and journalism and so many other top programs. So both, evolve to be increasingly accessible and increasingly academically superior.
KC: Is there a particular aspect of the university that you believe draws people here?
HP: The culture. We have a positive culture at USC so while we are large and public and growing, we have not lost that small college charm and feel and the culture of saying hello to each other, greeting each other, supporting each other. Marcus Lattimore is a good example of that. We came out as a family to support him in his time of need. So the culture, I think, is what is a special characteristic.
KC: What do you in your spare time, if you ever have spare time?
HP: I read the New York Times for a longer period of time. I work out for a longer period of time. I read books, which I don’t get a chance to do very much. I read a lot but not necessarily books. If I had a lot of time, I would travel, certainly. Get to see some interesting places more than I get the opportunity to do.
KC: So is that how you see yourself spending your time once your presidential duties are completely fulfilled?
HP: Yes. I would take more trips to visit my granddaughter in California and my son and daughter, travel a little more leisurely, spend more time abroad, but otherwise wake up and do the same things that I do now, probably.
Word to the Wise
KC: What is the best piece of advice that you have been given?
HP: Be yourself.
KC: Why does that stick out? Is there someone who told you that and that made it special?
HP: Many people have told me that. I wouldn’t give credit to any one person. When you become a president, well, I read a lot of books about leadership and successful people but you really can’t follow anyone else’s footsteps. I’m going to be myself. I’m going to be the president but I’m going to be my own person. And if you try to be someone else people will sniff it out right away. They’ll know you’re somewhat of a fake.
KC: What would you tell someone who aspired to be in higher education or become the president of a university?
HP: I would suggest that they do a lot of volunteer work. Always say yes to challenges that are presented to them, opportunities to take on more and be a leader. It may be more work, may be more money or not more money. Start moving up where ever you are. And then, of course, read. The Chronicle of Higher Education, it’s a newspaper that comes out everyday. Become more familiar with the challenges that are in higher ed.
photos from sc.edu