USC trustee: Money spent on president search 'served its purpose'

COLUMBIA -- The University of South Carolina spent $171,676 on the nationwide presidential search that resulted in the hiring of Harris Pastides.

That figure is less than the $192,467 it cost to find Pastides' predecessor, Andrew Sorensen. But it was significantly more than the $110,450 the university spent on the 1991 search that ended with the hiring of John Palms.

Most of the money spent on this recent search -- just under $101,000 -- went to Dallas-based William Funk and Associates, a national search firm that has helped 67 universities across the country find presidents or chancellors.

USC conducted a national search, considering more than 80 candidates from across the country, before deciding on Pastides, who was on its campus all along, as vice president for research and health sciences.

However, USC trustee Miles Loadholt says the nationwide search served its purpose: To make sure the university considered a range of the best candidates available.

"You need to get the most qualified person," said Loadholt, chairman of the search committee that sifted through the presidential candidates. "We've got to look beyond the city limits of Columbia. It would have subtracted so much from (Pastides') presidency not to have done a national search."

When universities do such a search, Funk and Associates is often the firm they choose for help.

USC's board members, like board members at most major universities, tend to be well-connected figures. But, Loadholt added, "We don't have the contacts that a nationwide firm would have."

Nationwide firms have inside information on which high-level university officials might be interested in moving to a different job.

"A nationwide firm would stay in contact with people in higher education and would know who was looking to make a move," Loadholt said. "A lot of times when you have sitting presidents, they might be very reluctant to talk to a university. You go through a third party."

About a dozen search firms bid to help USC find a new president, Loadholt said.

Direct costs

While Funk and Associates received the lion's share of the money USC spent on its presidential search, some $71,000 was spent on other expenses.

USC spokesman Russ McKinney said that money was spent on "direct costs" such as airfare, hotel and telephone expenses as search committee members looked for Sorensen's successor.

"We did a lot of work," Loadholt said. "We met with people in different places around the country, trying to narrow down the search."

For example, Loadholt and other search committee members spent most of one weekend in Atlanta, interviewing five candidates.

"It's an easy place for them to get in and out of," Loadholt said of Atlanta.