Welcome to the the Office of the President
Building Strength Together
May 5, 2004
It is a pleasure to be with you today and to share the podium with my good friend President Sorensen. I should point out, however, that making a joint presentation with Andrew breaks two of my long-standing and deeply cherished rules about public speaking. First, never share the platform with a Yale graduate. Second, never appear on the same program with a preacher. It is, therefore, with some trepidation that I appear before you today in what might be described as an exercise in risk taking.
Let me quickly point out, however, that Dr. Sorensen has been one of my most trusted advisors. From his greater experience, he has given me wise counsel on the challenges that face a university president. The best advice that I ever received on that topic came not from Dr. Sorensen, but rather from Judge Alex Saunders, the former President of the College of Charleston. Shortly after my election as President of the Medical University, Alex told me that there were three things essential to the success of any college president. First, one must deliver winning athletic teams for the alumni. Next, you must provide parking for the faculty. Finally, you must assure sex for the students. Well, the Medical University has no athletic teams and we are building two parking garages. As to the last matter, I am leaving the students to their own devices.
Having told you more than you probably wanted to hear about campus life, let me turn now to the State of South Carolina. My favorite quote about the Palmetto State goes back to the nineteenth century, when it was said that: “South Carolina is too small to be a republic, but too large to be an insane asylum." A century and a half later, that description still rings true. Among other attributes, our beloved state is characterized by at least three principal features: small size, limited resources, and crazy behavior. In my opinion, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being small and poor. No doubt, those traits serve to foster our strong sense of humility. The same cannot be said, however, for our predisposition to crazy behavior.
What exactly do I mean by crazy behavior? You have probably heard the popular definition of insanity, which is: to keep doing things the way you have always done them, while expecting the outcomes to be different. For centuries, our state has taken its meager resources and allocated them on the basis of multiple competing regional interests. This strategy has understandable political appeal, but it results in taking our small pie of resources and dividing it into slices so miniscule as to strain the detection limits of the best nanoscientists at USC.
Nowhere is this divide and conquer mentality more evident than in our higher education system. Without question, we have too many institutions competing for too few dollars. It is a recipe that tends to produce mediocrity, or at the very least, serves to undermine the opportunity to build strength and depth within and across our academic programs.
Which brings me to the heart of my message: we have to adopt a different strategy if we hope to achieve greatness for South Carolina. Personally, I am an optimist, and I believe that we are capable of devising a better system if it can be shown to benefit all of our citizens.
Speaking of optimism, there was a headline in the Post and Courier a few months ago that caught my attention. Actually, there are a lot of headlines in the Post and Courier that catch my attention, but usually it is out of self-defense. In this instance, however, the article was quite positive - perhaps it was a slow news day. Nevertheless, the headline read something like: “Charleston is a Hot Place for Young People." No doubt, some Charlestonians shudder at the thought of such a phenomenon. The residents of the Holy City are not a crowd much enamored of anything young and trendy. Let me suggest to you, however, that there could not be better news from an economic development point of view.
David Ginn, the head of the Charleston Regional Development Alliance, wrote recently that: “According to a recent report from the U. S. Census Bureau, the Charleston region ranked among the top 50 metropolitan areas in terms of growing its young, college-educated population. Between 1995 and 2000, the number of area residents aged 25 to 39 with a college education rose significantly, while most other areas of our state actually lost members of this key demographic." That point warrants repetition: most of our state is actually losing its young, college-educated population. The brain drain that has depleted our state of its best and brightest continues even today.
Mr. Ginn goes on to write that: “Charleston also has experienced significant growth in the number of residents holding advanced degrees. Between 1980 and 2000, the number of local residents age 25 and older holding a graduate or professional degree grew 109 percent, compared to overall U. S. growth of 11 percent for that same age group." In other words, over the past two decades Charleston has experienced 10 times the national average growth in highly educated people. I would like to believe, and the data should confirm, that a substantial part of that growth has occurred because of the expansion of the Medical University.
Why is the influx of young, educated people such an important underpinning for economic development? The answer to that question lies within the pages of the recent Richard Florida’s bestseller The Rise of the Creative Class. Florida makes the case that the new technologically oriented economy is driven by creative people who tend to cluster in certain environments. Quality of life is very important to these entrepreneurs. They tend to settle in areas that are marked by three attributes: diversity, tolerance and openness to new ideas. It is not a great concession to admit that through most of our history, South Carolina would not be characterized as the poster child for diversity, tolerance and openness to new ideas.
For us to survive, and indeed thrive, in the new economy, we have to create a culture of cooperation in South Carolina. This culture begins with the premise that we will either rise together or sink separately. We must begin to operate in the belief that we are mutually dependent, which implies that we will think and act across traditional regional, racial and economic boundaries. Second, the gap between our public institutions (such as universities) and the best institutions elsewhere is so great, that we have to build strategic linkages in order to create critical mass and compete successfully. Third, we must build mutually beneficial partnerships across the public and private sectors. The resources simply do not exist within the public coffers alone to make the magnitude of investment required to build premier institutions within this state. Fourth, we must create an environment in which entrepreneurial behavior is not only tolerated, but actually rewarded.
Without question, this agenda can be threatening to our existing institutions and historical patterns of behavior. People are understandably reluctant to abandon that which they know for that which is unknown. Moreover, whenever separate enterprises are integrated, there is a natural tendency to focus on what might be lost or otherwise diminished. For example, one might question whether the gain in collective ability is worth the loss of autonomy and independence? One might also fear that the other party will gain an upper hand and dominate the joint effort.
We have seen some of these apprehensions surface in the recent discussions about integrating the USC and MUSC pharmacy schools. Concerns about potential loss of control and identity have led some to question whether such a consolidation is in the best interests of both schools. If we permit those fears to dominate the discussion, however, we will be left with the current situation – two independent, under-funded schools of modest size and ability.
You don’t have to take my word for it – just look at the data. On average, the top 10 schools of pharmacy in this country as ranked by U. S. News and World Report have 65 faculty members, whereas the average for our separate schools is 37. The leading pharmacy schools have an average of 550 students, whereas our schools have less than 300 on average. The top pharmacy schools in the country average about $6.5 million per year in funding from the National Institutes of Health, compared with less than $1 million for each of our separate schools.
If we combine our schools, we can compete, or at least begin to compete, with the best in the country. If we go our separate ways, however, we will not reach our full potential and that would be a loss for South Carolina. President Sorensen and I believe that our primary obligation is to build academic quality in this state. If that means combining assets, then it is not only in our respective institutional interests, it serves the greater good of the State of South Carolina. I applaud the Boards of Trustees at both USC and MUSC for setting a course in which these aspirations are encouraged. Ultimately, the Boards are charged with responsibility for guiding our efforts, and they have encouraged us to build strength together.
There are extraordinary opportunities on the horizon. Just last week, President Sorensen and I joined our colleagues, Mr. Frank Pinckney and Mr. Kester Freeman, the leaders of the Greenville Hospital System and Palmetto Health, respectively to announce the formation of a new collaborative. The hospitals are joining with the universities to create a matching fund for biomedical research centers of economic excellence in South Carolina. By leveraging the endowed chair matching funds from the state lottery, this collaboration will create an endowment of $160 million of investment to recruit the best scientists into South Carolina. These leading researchers will not only enhance the quality of our academic institutions, they will improve the health care of South Carolinians and they will stimulate the knowledge-based economy in our state.
It is through creative relationships, such as the hospital collaborative, that South Carolina will build the critical mass necessary to compete with larger and more established research institutions. I have every confidence that we can develop a model of collaboration that will become the envy of the country. Should fears of change stand in our way, may we remember the words that John F. Kennedy spoke over four decades ago: “Let us resolve to be masters, not the victims, of our history, controlling our own destiny without giving way to blind suspicions and emotions."