COLUMBIA -- The University of South Carolina will promote a well-regarded member of its administration or hire the first female president in school history when the Board of Trustees selects a new leader Friday.
Two women -- Janie Fouke of the University of Florida and Geri Hockfield Malandra of the University of Texas System -- join USC vice president Harris Pastides on the list of presidential finalists, the university announced Wednesday.
The Board of Trustees will vote on a new president at a special meeting.
Pastides, who has been at USC since 1998 and has overseen the securing of millions of research dollars, is viewed by some as the front-runner. He was the lone finalist for the presidency of the Georgia State University system before removing himself from consideration 10 days ago.
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Pastides, long viewed as presidential material in university circles, has had other opportunities to leave USC, but he has stayed on. He is known within and beyond the university as a consensus builder.
"It's a special honor to be this close to one of the great presidencies in the United States," Pastides said of the USC job.
'No flies on these people'
None of the candidates has served as a university president. The board struggled to find sitting presidents who were willing to go through the entire interview process and be publicly named as finalists with no guarantee they would get the job.
Still, board chairman Herb Adams said he and his colleagues are pleased with the finalists.
"There are no flies on these people," he said. "This group was so adapted to the things that face higher education."
Adams said he is particularly pleased with the number of women and minorities who were part of the interview process. Many top candidates were women, he said.
"If, on Friday, we were to elect a female, it could shake the foundation of public education in the Southeast," he said.
Supporters of Andrew Card, a USC alum and former chief of staff to President Bush, were disappointed he was not among the finalists.
"Mr. Card's got a lot of nationwide notoriety, and I think he would have done a lot for the university," said state Rep. Michael Thompson, R-Anderson.
Fouke, Malandra and Pastides are looking to succeed Andrew Sorensen, who announced in December he would step down at the end of this month.
Sorensen, who turns 70 on July 20, has served as president since 2002. He and board members have said the university needs to launch a massive fundraising drive that should be handled by a new president.
Adams said Wednesday a capital campaign will be the next president's central focus.
The belief that Card would be able to tap his extensive set of business and political contacts made him the right choice, his supporters argued in letters and e-mails to board members.
Pastides and Fouke, who served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Florida, both noted the importance of fundraising in interviews Wednesday.
"I think that, given the constrained resources, the next president is going to have to keep focus and find new resources," Pastides said. "Fundraising is going to be a very important obligation of the next president."
Foulke 'intense', 'inspirational'
Fouke, who stepped down as provost in March when Florida's administration underwent what it hopes will be a money-saving reorganization, said she will seek new sources of money if she is chosen.
She said one potential source is intellectual property licensing revenue generated by research.
When the 57-year-old Fouke decided to step down as provost, she agreed to undertake a yearlong review of the university's international programs.
Those who have worked with Fouke at Florida describe her as "intense" and "inspirational."
"She's a person of enormous energy and intelligence," said Angel Kwolek-Folland, an interim associate provost at Florida. "She's a builder."
Rick Yost, a chemistry professor who is a former chairman of the faculty senate, said Fouke's intensity sometimes made it "difficult to be second in command."
Yost said Fouke's relationship with the university's president, Bernie Machen, "wasn't always disharmonious, but they didn't always get along."
Efforts to reach Machen were unsuccessful.
Malandra self-described CEO
Malandra, 58, serves as vice chancellor for strategic management for the University of Texas System, a wide network of campuses that includes the University of Texas at Austin. She described her job Wednesday as a CEO of the system with responsibilities that include accountability and strategic planning.
"I am honored and privileged to be among the three finalists (at USC)," she said.
Asked what she would focus on if she was named president, she said: "It's premature to answer that question. I'm awaiting the decision of the board."
With USC rumor mills rife in unfounded speculation that one or more of the finalists would be a high-level politico, Wednesday's announcement came as a breath of fresh air to some on campus.
"My only concern is that Sorensen is leaving," said Lala Steelman, newly named chair of the sociology department. "It is regrettable for many of us, and I just hope (one of the three) can continue in the tradition Dr. Sorensen was moving, with the same level of productivity."
Steelman is a 27-year USC faculty member and one of only about 30 women full professors at the university. She said rumors of a politico being a leading contender for the job "put the fear of God in some of us."
Steelman marveled that the three candidates are "soundly distinguished in academia."
"We have to get a new president," the former Senate Faculty member said. "I'm intrigued by the selection. Two women? That's pretty amazing for USC."
Steelman said those who know Pastides like him, but she could not say whether that affords him an advantage over Fouke and Malandra.
Walter Pratt, USC Law School dean and distinguished professor, also expressed regret at Sorensen's departure, while looking ahead.
"You have to be happy with these three," said Pratt, a member of the university's Council of Academic Deans and law school dean for two years. "That's a tremendous credit to the university to have this field of candidates who are seriously interested in leading the university."