Friday, July 18, 2008
It was only his second day on the job, but South Carolina State University's new president said Thursday that he's ready to make changes.
George Cooper, 63, said he accepted the job because many others at the school also were ready to improve the academic program, bring in more resources and become more accountable and transparent financially.
They are ready "to be different and to do things differently," he said. And that's important to him, he said, "because I'm competitive in what I do and I want (S.C. State) to be the best university in South Carolina."
Hundreds of S.C. State supporters turned out to meet the school's 10th president at a welcoming reception Thursday, smashing the image of a sleepy summer day on campus.
Cooper and his wife Diane, who have been married for 40 years, have taken a risk by leaving Washington, D.C., and moving to Orangeburg, he said. But the couple was ready to meet new people and experience new things, he said.
Cooper had worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture since 1991, most recently as the deputy administrator for Science and Education Resource Development.
Maurice Washington, who is chairman of the university's Board of Trustees through the end of September, said Cooper's salary is $200,000. About $145,000 will come from the state and $55,000 from the University Advancement Foundation, he said.
Cooper will also receive $15,000 for moving expenses, an annual $25,000 housing allowance, use of a car and membership in various social and civic organizations.
Cooper said that as president of the state's only public historically black university, he plans to run a "student-centered" institution. "If we're not serving students, we have no need to exist," he said.
Evelyn Fields, chairwoman of the university's Department of Teacher Education and president of the Faculty Senate, said most faculty members she's talked with are pleased that Cooper has some experience in academia.
Before working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Cooper was a professor and vice president for academic affairs at Alabama A&M University. He also worked in other academic settings.
Faculty members really weren't looking for someone to "run day-to-day activities," she said. Instead they wanted someone who could "cast a vision and articulate it nationwide." Most faculty members, she said, think Cooper will be good for S.C. State.
Cooper said he knows that a big part of his job is fundraising, and he's up to the challenge.
To raise money, he said, "you have to get out there and tell success stories about the university, and I'm passionate about that."
Fundraising, he said, "allows you to celebrate the successes."
Cooper said he's not going to focus on past conflicts at the university.
Conflict arose between the university's board and some alumni and other campus groups late last year when the board decided not to offer former President Andrew Hugine another contract.
Robert Nance, who joined the university's board in May, is the district director on House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn's South Carolina staff. Clyburn, D-S.C., and a powerful alumnus of S.C. State, was critical of the board's decision to let Hugine go.
Nance said "the university family is still going through the healing process." But, he said, the excitement and energy around Cooper being hired as president is moving that process quickly forward. "I support President Cooper wholeheartedly," he said.
Cooper said he's only looking toward the future. "I'm a visionary," he said. "I believe you find the common ground, reach consensus and move forward."