With the recent passing of former USC president James “Jim” Holderman on April 3, many reflected on his legacy in both the good and more questionable things he has done for the university. We as a university must continue to improve USC's climate in all aspects in order to honor Holderman's commitment to the prestige of this school.
On June 30, 1977, Holderman was selected to become the twenty-fifth president of the university before resigning thirteen years later in 1990 due to several scandals. Before such scandals occurred, Holderman was known for increasing academic competitiveness among incoming freshmen and bringing very famous and well-known figures to the campus for visits.
Under his direction, the University of South Carolina saw an expansion in its coveted Honors College, increased academic difficulty and competition for incoming freshmen classes and a promotion of the international business programs. He was able to successfully acquire increased state funding in creating the school’s endowment program. Such efforts were made in Holderman’s desire to rebrand the University of South Carolina as a more pronounced educational institution in the country.
Other actions taken to give the school a prestigious presence included a donation of Twentieth Century film studios’ Movietone News Collection to the school’s Moving Research Collection shortly before Holderman resigned. This was not only an exclusive endeavor in itself, but also gave the University of South Carolina sole rights to license anything from that collection. Similar, unique instances should continue to be made within the university in order to draw more students in.
Celebrities and political figures were drawn to the campus for visits and speeches in Holderman’s time as president. Such figures included former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Pope John Paul II, former presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and Bill Cosby among others.
A remnant of these visits can be found in a plaque located in the Horseshoe commemorating Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1987, reading: "It is wonderful to be young and to be a student of the University of South Carolina."
Holderman's leadership not only brought a global recognition to USC as a competitive and significant educational institution, but also pushed forward initiatives that still exist today. While some of his actions were surrounded in controversy, his contributions can still be honored in the university taking more steps towards building its reputation and competitiveness. Whether it be through attracting more public figures to visit campus, increase academic competitiveness within certain programs such as the Honors College or Capstone Scholars or obtaining more means of donations and funding, this can easily be obtained.
Despite these significant efforts to improve the university and its reputation, Holderman became embroiled in controversy after controversy leading up to his departure in 1990.
While still in office, Holderman was accused of mishandling the school’s money for personal gains. According to a 1989 Greenville News report, it was found that he misused the university's $2.3 million discretionary spending fund and gave out expensive and confidential gifts to several government officials and their families. According to the Greenville News, records of these prompted two reporters digging through "six feet of garbage to uncover the files."
Holderman’s legacy in his post-university life also seemed to be engulfed in scandals. Just one year after his resignation, his ex-wife of over three decades alleged that she had been a victim of abuse in their marriage. Many students, who were all men, accused Holderman of luring them with lavish weekend trips and funds only to be subjected to unwanted advances toward them. These were all made possible on the university’s dime. As the school continues to progress and things are made more known and public with a greater reach in technology, people in positions of power should be selected on a basis that will be uninvolved from such scandals.
Since then, Holderman had been imprisoned for fraudulent bankruptcy charges and became caught up in "trying to launder $400,000 in drug money" with a former USC intern among other things.
Despite these many shortcomings, the university released a statement praising Holderman’s leadership following his death earlier this month.
"The University of South Carolina community is saddened to learn of former President James Holderman’s passing… The positive impact our university alumni continue to have in their communities is part of his legacy. We send our sincere condolences to his family and loved ones during this difficult time."
While many of Holderman’s actions were deemed questionable at the time and downright wrong since, a portion of his policies and efforts have greatly improved USC and put it on the map among many other academically competitive colleges.
As a university, we should strive to continue improving our climate in a reasonable manner from this basis to further honor Holderman's legacy.