The University of South Carolina is embarking on the search for its 29th president, a historic moment in the life of any university. USC’s Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee recently sent a letter to the Board of Trustees highlighting our conviction that an appreciation for diversity and inclusion should be a priority both in the search for the new president and in the new administration.
Our new president must be able to speak to the many people who make up and are touched by our university community. He or she must possess a demonstrated track record of success fostering an inclusive and diverse environment. As we stated in our letter to the board, appreciation for diversity is not a luxury. It is a foundational requirement.
Under Harris Pastides, the University of South Carolina has experienced unprecedented growth. We serve more students, in more majors and programs of study, than ever before. Nationally and internationally ranked programs dot our academic units. Major conference and even national championships are expected in our Athletics Department and from our fans.
This growth has transformed our university. We now cast an unmistakable global presence. Increasing numbers of students from all over the world make themselves Gamecocks, and we send more students out into the world than ever. International recognition radiates from our faculty’s research pursuits.
At the same time as we’ve gone global, we’ve never reached more deeply into the life of South Carolina. Under President Pastides, we’ve expanded our outreach efforts, from the arts and cultural life, to public health, natural research, economic development and much more. In this new environment, the commitment to diversity and inclusion is essential. Our continued excellence depends on it.
Our next president must recognize the ever-changing diversity of our student body, not just on the Columbia campus but throughout the state system. For example, women pursue higher education at a greater rate than males.
Barely 50 years since desegregation, African-American women realize better retention and graduation rates than most other cohorts of students. This new diversity also means welcoming students with more varying needs than ever, including those with mental health challenges, physical disabilities, or severe financial exigencies.
We also need a president who can attract faculty and staff who would not currently think of applying to USC or living in South Carolina. Maintaining world-class teaching and scholarship depends on our ability to compete for talented individuals from all walks of life, and our capacity to make them feel welcome once they arrive.
The best candidate for this vital position is therefore someone who can understand and inspire the many backgrounds that make up our university community. The best candidate is someone with the breadth of experience to see the world from multiple angles, who doesn’t merely have to infer other points of view but who can embody them, bringing all our combined strengths to bear on the challenges of our day. The best candidate can embody and promote one of our bedrock values, that success in life comes from talent and hard work, not accumulated privilege.
As the university selects a new president, we have the chance to do something extraordinary. It matters that all our students can see someone in a leadership position with whom they identify and thus know that the university is open to them and invested in their success. President Pastides has been a game-changer for the University of South Carolina. We look forward to joining forces with another mold-breaker in the same tradition.
David J. Snyder, Ph.D., is chairman of the University Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Committee at the University of South Carolina.