The university announced the hiring of J. Rex Tolliver as the new vice president for student affairs and academic support in an email sent out on July 28.
The board of trustees will meet to approve his and the vice president for development's appointments on Aug. 19 before Tolliver begins work on Aug. 22.
"It is both an honor and a privilege for me to join the Gamecock family and the amazing team in Student Affairs and Academic Support,” Tolliver said in a press release on July 28. "As the new chief student advocate, I plan to lead with a students-first agenda. I'm looking forward to partnering with President Amiridis, Provost Arnett, campus leadership and staff and especially the students as we work to build a more inclusive and engaged campus community that values and supports all of its students."
Tolliver currently serves as the vice chancellor of student affairs at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) where he worked with President Micheal Amiridis when Amiridis served as chancellor.
During his candidate presentation on July 14, Tolliver said he had three main priorities for USC — creating a community that cares, emphasizing co-curricular activities for students and fixing problems within the student affairs career.
Tolliver plans to create a caring community by focusing on mental health prevention and as a first-generation student, a more intentional plan to support minority students.
“We could be the leading producer of African American graduates in a discipline or two. If we create that kind of commitment, what does that commitment do? That commitment speaks to a community that says this is a place that I can go and that I can thrive,” Tolliver said in the Q&A.
Tolliver said he sees co-curricular opportunities on and off-campus experiences as an important aspect of students’ learning. At UIC, Tolliver implemented a program to fund student internships and he said hopes that USC would guarantee every student a paid “internship, externship or co-op, if they desire.”
“If we're serious about making sure that South Carolina graduates are some of the preeminent in the country, then what are we going to do?” Tolliver said. “We can partner with organizations, we can also then look at all of the jobs that we have at the institution and craft them into these types of experiences.”
Tolliver said student life faculty is an important part of student experience, but that staff face multiple obstacles that hinder their success in the career.
“One of the things that is challenging about this work is that everybody in student affairs realize that we're understaffed, overworked and we are underpaid. When you look at what's going on with institutions outside of the university, and we have staff leaving left and right, because they're getting paid more to deal with less stressful situations,” Toliver said.
To help with faculty member’s stress, Tolliver hopes to implement things such as more flexible schedules and career development opportunities.
Tolliver was one of three candidates that visited campus in early July to speak with students and faculty on their vision and plans for the university.
The other candidates were Darryl B. Holloman and Brandi Hephner LaBanc.
In addition to Tolliver, USC announced the hiring of Michelle Dodenhoff as the vice president of development.
“I am thrilled and honored to be returning to the University of South Carolina,” Dodenhoff said in the press release. “The university holds a special place in my heart and the opportunity to come back and help support the mission is exciting. I look forward to rekindling old friendships and making new ones. Under the leadership of President Amiridis and the power of philanthropy, remarkable things are on the horizon. I can't wait to get to work.”
Dodenhoff previously worked at USC as associate vice president of university development from 2004-2009 and as vice president for development and alumni affairs from 2009-2013.
“Both Michelle and Rex bring a proven track record of success in their fields, and they have the vision and energy to be robust additions to the leadership of the university,” University President Amiridis said in the email. “I look forward to what we will accomplish together.”
Tolliver and Dodenhoff complete Amiridis’ cabinet and will be joined by Donna Arnett, executive vice president for academic affairs and provost, Julius Fridriksson, vice president for research and Stacy Fritz, Amiridis’ chief of staff.