Standing in a packed room overlooking the oak-dotted Cistern Yard, incoming College of Charleston President Andrew Hsu introduced himself to students and faculty Wednesday with a nod to the school's nearly 250-year history.
Like any College of Charleston history buff, Hsu rattled off the pedigrees of the public liberal arts college's founders: Three signed the Declaration of Independence, three helped frame the U.S. Constitution. But Hsu also noted some of its oldest buildings were constructed with plantation wealth derived from enslaved laborers.
"We need to acknowledge our history in full — the uplifting moments along with the disappointing ones," Hsu said. "The history of this university runs alongside our country. ... Our earliest moments share both great pride and great pain."
Hsu, a former rocket scientist currently serving as provost at the University of Toledo, is set to take over as the college's 23rd president on May 16. His speech Wednesday was short on details, but he said he prefers to gather input before taking action.
"I have been thinking about that for the last couple of months, and I can tell you that I am full of ideas," Hsu said. "But it would be unwise for me to set vision and priorities without spending time on campus and without speaking to all of you."
In a brief interview after his speech, Hsu said he wants to promote diversity at the college, first by creating an "inclusive culture and support system" and second by improving recruitment efforts for minority students.
"We know the College of Charleston student body in no way reflects the state of South Carolina, and ... any reasonable person would set that as a goal to achieve," Hsu said.
Hsu said he is also committed to controlling the rising cost of tuition and fees. Like most colleges, the school has balanced its budget with successive tuition hikes as the state Legislature cut its funding for public higher education.
Hsu said he will start by looking for ways to cut costs.
"We need to improve efficiency, both in terms of the administrative units as well as the teaching units — to make sure that we're teaching the right classes and we're offering the right number of sections — and our processes are streamlined and we don't have an over-bloated bureaucracy and administration," Hsu said.
Faculty and students gave Hsu two standing ovations during his Wednesday speech.
"I'm optimistic about our campus," said Ade Ofunniyin, an adjunct professor of African-American studies who waited in the Cistern Yard to meet Hsu after his speech.
Samantha Roberts, a freshman biology student, also waited with a group of classmates to meet Hsu.
"I heard he was very student-based," Roberts said.
Hsu has signed a contract to begin working as president-designate on March 1 and take over full-time presidential duties on May 16. He will receive a salary of about $410,000.