With the planned June retirement of Winthrop University President Anthony J. DiGiorgio and the search for his replacement reaching the final stages, it’s time to revisit the institution’s role in our state and region.
But first, we need to thank DiGiorgio for his lengthy tenure and his 24 years of leadership in the academic and physical plant growth of the university. His tenure is reported to be the longest of any college president in South Carolina. He is credited with $60 million in capital projects. That wasn’t easy. DiGiorgio and the faculty endured a divisive period in his early years, which led to a vote of no-confidence. Not many university presidents survive such turmoil. Yet, the president and the faculty came to terms, and the institution grew stronger.
Challenges also remain following the recession, which has resulted in budget cutting with tuition and fee increases for students, and lagging salaries for faculty and staff. Whoever is selected to replace DiGiorgio faces tremendous challenges in fundraising and recruitment of able students and highly-qualified faculty.
As residents of this region, we all have a stake in Winthrop’s future. Where do we go from here?
Winthrop and the state’s leaders need to reconsider the mission and commitments of the university. The very name of the institution presents a challenge. “Winthrop” sounds like a private institution. That may have caused its constituencies not to expect the leadership, research and services that public universities provide. Of course, the university has a lot at stake in the history and traditions that go with the name. Rutgers overcame this problem with a subtitle: Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. How about: Winthrop, the State University of North Central South Carolina?
The fast development of north central South Carolina requires we tap the research and leadership that a university provides. Our portion of South Carolina also is a part of the booming Charlotte metropolitan area. Winthrop could provide leadership to the area from the south as UNC Charlotte provides from the north.
Part of the challenge of a new leader is to reach out to surrounding communities, like Lake Wylie and the rest of York County, as well as to all of South Carolina. As residents, we all have an obligation to participate in the fundraising and lay leadership that will be necessary to meet the challenges of a new age for Winthrop.