The university board of trustees unanimously named Harris Pastides interim president of USC on Friday.
Pastides, who served as the university president from 2008 to 2019, was approached to take up the position last week. Pastides will receive a salary of $750,000.
“It was a shock and also flattering. I did not know how even I felt about it immediately, and I had to go home that evening and speak to Patricia about it," Pastides said. "We started as maybe anyone would do, making their list of pros and cons."
The announcement follows former university president Bob Caslen's resignation on May 12 after he plagiarized part of his commencement speech. Caslen also mistakenly congratulated students as graduates of "the University of California" during a commencement ceremony.
Caslen will serve as an adviser to help Pastides transition into the presidency, according to board chair Dorn Smith. Caslen will be paid his presidential salary through June, according to a text from university spokesperson Jeff Stensland.
Pastides said he plans to receive reports from both Caslen’s Title IX Task Force and the commission on university history and will continue the efforts of both projects.
"We’ll move ahead and see what they say, and then we’ll have to decide together how to respond to them,” Pastides said.
Pastides also plans to bring new searches for the provost and chief health officer of the university, he said. These roles were left empty after William Tate and Dr. Deborah Beck, respectively, left their positions. Currently, the university has five interim deans in place.
The presidential search committee was also announced and can be found here.
After the controversial presidential search that resulted in Caslen's appointment, the governance committee of the board reviewed and rewrote multiple bylaws and policies. The newly reviewed and rewritten search policy "meets and exceeds the standards for a presidential search policy," according to governance committee chairman Thad Westbrook, who is also chair of the presidential search committee.
"We believe the changes we've made will help us identify a diverse pool of highly qualified candidates," Westbrook said.
Among the new additions to the now seven-paged presidential search policy is a bylaw to protect against undue influence. The policy calls for a member of the committee to report "any attempt by any external stakeholder to leverage undue political influence on the search." Not doing so is grounds for removal from the committee.
Pastides will serve until June 2022 or until a new president is found.
Pastides said he is not envisioning a significant initiative during his term and instead wants to focus on reconnecting with faculty, donors, alumni, governments, press and neighborhoods within Columbia.
“I think my job is to gather people together. I don’t believe anything is broken here ... I think we are a great university," Pastides said. "What I’m about to do is not necessarily all that different from what any college president would be doing today, once the pandemic seems to be receding, and that is to make sure the communities are in touch.”
Pastides will not officially be helping with the search for a new president, but he will be speaking with people he thinks might make good candidates, he said.
“I know the board is committed to having a diverse set of candidates to look at,” Pastides said. “The real help I can bring ... is by stabilizing the university, helping to stabilize it, helping it to feel good again, to show some forward progress and momentum so that these people who are contacted say, ‘Yeah, we’re hearing great things about Carolina.’”
Pastides is most excited about interacting with students again, he said.
“I’ve missed you all ... I’ve missed occasionally being woken up at one or two in the morning, when you all come back from wherever you’ve been on a Friday or Saturday night. That's big. I’ve missed the faculty, certainly; I’ve missed fundraising and going out there and selling the university,” Pastides said.