The Daily Gamecock

Darla Moore donates $5 million to USC for aerospace center

Darla Moore begins funding for aerospace research center in first speech since replacement

Darla Moore had hundreds of students, almost a dozen television cameras and USC's top officials packed inside a captivated Russell House Ballroom, ready to hear her thoughts on being removed from USC's board of trustees.

She didn't give those thoughts, but she announced a $5 million gift in a powerful speech that left a few students in tears.

The donation will go toward an aerospace research center that will be the "wave of the future" in a knowledge-based economy, Moore said. Thursday's donation brings her pledged gift total to USC to $75 million.

"There was speculation I would take my checkbook and go home," Moore said. "I want you to know my commitment to USC is as strong as ever."

She asked the center be named after Ronald McNair, a South Carolina hero who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster. And she challenged the state to match the $5 million gift and urged legislators and the governor to properly fund higher education.

Gov. Nikki Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey praised the gift from Moore but called her request for a match in funding premature.

"While the governor and Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt both support and continue to work hard to bring aerospace companies and jobs to our state, they both believe the budget request for this project was premature in a budget year where we have millions of dollars in budget shortfalls, and we are focused on returning to the basic core functions of government," Godfrey said.

Thursday was a triumphant homecoming for Moore, just nine days after she was replaced on USC's board of trustees by Haley in favor of campaign contributor Tommy Cofield.

In a highly anticipated speech that commanded the attention of everyone in attendence and needed no introduction, Moore personally thanked students and supporters for their advocacy over the past week. She received several standing ovations and even more rounds of applause.

Moore called USC President Harris Pastides and Moore School of Business Dean Hildy Teegen "a team of leaders."

"This is not about Darla Moore," she said. "This is not about me. I am dedicated to serving this state and university as a citizen and a very proud alumna."

She weaved a personal story of Ronald McNair, talking about his Lake City upbringing and his challenges to even rent a book in a segregated society. McNair later received his doctorate in laser physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Moore promised to not allow University of South Carolina degrees to lose value and urged state leaders to progressively fund higher education and consider innovative ideas like the one she announced Thursday. She said she knew students understood her message.

"We can compete at the highest level," Moore said. "Just because I no longer serve on the board does not mean for one second I'll be deterred to expand our reach for excellence."

After the announcement, university officials said they never doubted Moore's commitment to USC. Moore said she didn't need a "spot or title" to speak out for the University of South Carolina.

Provost Michael Amiridis said the center would bring needed research and jobs to a state that is about to see an aerospace transformation with Boeing's move. He anticipates new degree programs at the graduate level and some minor degree possibilities at the undergraduate level.

Moore and USC officials want to provide valuable knowledge research to Boeing and other companies it brings to the state. They also want to train USC students in aerospace engineering, a field projected to skyrocket in South Carolina.

USC had a $5 million earmark in the state budget for the center's formation, but it was removed last week by a House amendment. USC officials pledged to continue making progress on the center, but Thursday's surprise gift gave it "seed money" to get started, USC officials said.

Pastides said he was "humbled and awed" at the gift and said he didn't know about the gift until it was announced. The university didn't know the terms of the gift as of late Thursday, and Moore didn't take questions from the media after her speech.

Administrators also hadn't read her speech and weren't sure what Moore would say.

"It was high road time for her," said USC spokeswoman Luanne Lawrence. "Darla Moore showed everyone she's moved forward."


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