University President Harris Pastides focused on raising expectations for USC in his 10th State of the University speech, covering areas from faculty research to state appropriations. He also announced the renovation of the Carolina Coliseum, an effort that the university has pursued for years.
“It is our intention to move the University of South Carolina to the head of the nation’s great research universities,” Pastides said early in the speech.
While the 2016 address heavily featured the idea of a “21st century university” and what such a university should offer to students, this year’s address instead looked beyond campus to the university’s role as part of the South Carolina community.
Pastides devoted nearly a quarter of his speech to the need for excellence in research and innovation, excellence that he said can drive USC, Columbia and the entire state into the company of national economic powerhouses.
“When the state’s name is your university’s name, you sink or swim together,” he said.
Appeals to the state government for increased funding are a typical feature of the annual addresses, but this year’s address comes in the midst of a state legislature investigation into the increasing percentage of out-of-state students.
“For 10 years, USC has offset drastic cuts to higher education funding and held tuition growth for South Carolina residents in check by importing talent, the nation’s best and brightest, and increasing our population of out-of-state students,” Pastides said. “If we are to pursue excellence and educate more South Carolinians … We must make a pact.”
South Carolina has the fifth lowest level of state funding in the nation, and currently 9.5 percent of USC’s budget comes from state appropriations. Ten years ago, appropriations totaled above 20 percent.
“We’ve been signaling this alarm now for some time, and the time has come to do something about it,” university spokesman Wes Hickman said. “We have to figure out a new relationship, a new way to fund higher education.”
Tuition funding is likely to remain an issue for years to come, but another long-standing thorn in the side of the university might soon be facing a resolution. Pastides announced a commitment to renovating the Carolina Coliseum. He didn’t elaborate on exactly what functions the repurposed building will serve, but hinted at the possibility of additional student life space.
“As a student body president, to see different student initiatives and priorities become our university’s priorities is special,” Student Body President Ross Lordo said.
Pursuit of excellence — Pastides’ main point — might be driven by faculty research and rankings, but ultimately has the goal of improving the quality of education USC gives to its students.
“That might not be the headline tomorrow, but it is the main message I would have you take away today,” Pastides said. “That we take exceptional care of our students.”