Ted Sterns vision gave College of Charleston its firm foundation
BY P. GEORGE BENSON
When I became president of the College of Charleston in 2007, I had the good fortune to have access to the experience and expertise of several of my predecessors. However, because of his deep community ties and long record of service to Charleston, South Carolina, and the nation, one former president stood out among them.
Although President Emeritus Ted Stern retired more than three decades ago from the Collegeís top post, his legacy has endured and strengthened over time, with each passing year revealing what an incredibly prescient leader he was during his 11-year tenure. Simply put, Ted Stern was responsible for laying the foundation on which the modern College stands today.
The day after retiring from the U.S. Navy in 1968, Ted began work at the College, inheriting the leadership of a private school close to bankruptcy and in danger of losing its accreditation and many of its faculty. He quickly righted the ship.
He next set his sights on the racial integration of the student body and faculty. He introduced the Upward Bound program to enable African Americans without financial means to pursue an education at the College. Earlier this week, our campus community mourned the passing of Eddie Ganaway, who in 1971 became the first African American student to graduate from the College. It was Ted Stern who awarded that degree ó a degree that had wrongly been denied to African Americans up to that point.
In 1970, Ted successfully lobbied the South Carolina General Assembly to bring the College into the state system. He then established the College of Charleston Foundation and launched a building campaign. The ambitious expansion of campus facilities helped drive the Collegeís growth from 500 students to 5,000 students while he was president.
Under his leadership, the College acquired approximately 80 buildings and constructed many of our most important facilities, including the Robert Scott Small Building, Maybank Hall, Physicians Memorial Auditorium, Buist Rivers Residence Hall, the Rita Liddy Hollings Science Center, Grice Marine Lab, and the Albert Simons Center for the Arts.
He also helped introduce the Collegeís first graduate programs and the South Carolina Governorís School. And he initiated infrastructure and landscaping improvements that helped create the distinctive look and feel that make the College one of the most beautiful urban campuses in America.
Ted had a unique ability to see the big picture while not overlooking small but important details. The long list of his achievements at the College is owed to his inspiring can-do attitude and ability to unite people behind a common cause. He often said he didnít have the academic credentials to lead a college, or the artistic talent to lead the Spoleto Festival, yet he did both with confidence and humility. He learned from his military service to not make excuses and that a negative attitude never gets the job done.
ďIím not interested in what you canít do,Ē Ted once told College faculty and staff. ďIím interested in how you can do it.Ē
Fittingly, he titled his 2001 autobiography ďNo Problems, Only Challenges.Ē
Just as remarkable as Tedís many achievements was the grace with which he accomplished them. He was without enemies ó no easy feat for a New Yorker who spent decades in the South overseeing high-profile projects, navigating politics, and leading a public university.
Above all, Ted always encouraged his administration, faculty, and staff to strive for the continuous improvement of the student experience.
He loved the College and its students so much that he never really left the campus after his retirement. Until recently, when his health declined, he could be found in his campus office on Bull Street, greeting visitors, writing letters, fielding interviews ... and just being Ted.
I last saw Ted Stern on December 20th, just five days before he celebrated his 100th birthday. We gathered at the Presidentís House to toast his extraordinary life. Ted accepted our good wishes with his characteristic charm and modesty.
At that special moment, it seemed that Ted still could be with us for a long time to come. Iím stunned that Ted is gone so soon.
Like everyone who attended that birthday celebration, I will always be grateful that Ted prepared the College of Charleston for its remarkable progress over the past four decades.
There have been many fine presidents of the College of Charleston, and I am sure there will be more great presidents in the future. Ted Stern, however, will always stand apart. I stand firmly on Tedís shoulders, as will every president who follows me.
Thank you, Ted.
P. George Benson is president of the College of Charleston.