Amiridis reflects on first months as USC’s president. What’s next for the university?
Michael Amiridis remembers walking the Horseshoe as a chemical engineering professor at the University of South Carolina with his wife, Ero, and kids, Aspasia and Dimitri, decades ago.
He could never have imagined that he would one day call it home.
“And yet here I am,” Amiridis said. “It’s difficult to believe … I’m humbled.”
It has been nearly seven months since 60-year-old Amiridis became the 30th president of South Carolina’s flagship institution in July 2022. Amiridis is a former USC professor, department chair, dean, vice president and provost. He was unanimously selected by the board of trustees last year to become president.
The university recently celebrated its new leadership with an investiture ceremony.
“It does make you reflect,” Amiridis said. “I cannot help but think (about) when I came here for the first time.”
Amiridis said being USC’s president is his “calling.” And it isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle. Without a passion for higher education, Amiridis said, it wouldn’t work. It’s his passion that is guiding him. As a first-generation college student himself, it’s Amiridis’ mission to provide South Carolina students the same opportunity to pursue their dreams.
“I owe everything I have done in my life to public education and specifically public higher education,” Amiridis said. “This is what drives me.”
Amiridis spent the fall semester building relationships, listening and becoming reacquainted with Carolina after spending years away from the school.
Hearing student concerns like mental health, academic advising and parking has been informative, Amiridis said, and raising the minimum wage to $14 an hour for full-time staff members at USC was a win. The launch of five new research institutes to spur interdisciplinary projects and the creation of a new certification program that allows students to branch out of their majors have been highlights for Amiridis.
Cheering for Gamecock football in the student section has been a favorite memory.
What’s next for the president?
Building an environment of trust and cooperation and maintaining the vital aspect of a supportive community on campus will be at the forefront, Amiridis said. Prioritizing student perspectives and shared governance, too. Without it, a university can become dysfunctional.
“That’s why I’m here,” Amiridis said.
The student body has grown since Amiridis left the university in 2015 to become chancellor of the University of Illinois Chicago, jumping from 32,970 to 35,590 in 2022. His goal is to have new and updated infrastructure, like Russell House, and modernized curriculum to better serve their personal, academic and career needs.
The potential of the university’s upcoming health sciences campus on Bull Street excites Amiridis, and he hopes to create more programs, like industrial design.
And Amiridis wants to see growth in the Midlands — new jobs, new opportunities, new residents — that is on par with the expansion of Charleston and Greenville. He sees USC as a key aspect of that future growth, as South Carolina attracts more manufacturers and economic development.
“It’s part of our mission to advance economic development (and) create the type of jobs that are needed to retain our students,” Amiridis said.
Amiridis also recognizes his responsibility in rebuilding the public’s trust in higher education, which he said has eroded in recent years.
To rebuild this trust, Amiridis said, USC must be willing to innovate its teaching and its research and to preserve access and affordability.
“I’m excited,” Amiridis said. “It’s too early to declare a victory on anything, but I’m happy we’re making progress.”