ROCK HILL, S.C. – When Tony DiGiorgio first visited Winthrop in 1988 as a candidate to be its ninth president, he saw a college campus with the potential to become, in his words, “one of the best universities of its kind in the nation.”
On Wednesday, DiGiorgio both declared that vision realized, and proclaimed that Winthrop is “on course and aligned to achieve whatever the rest of the 21st century asks of us – academically, and in every other way.”
It was the 24th – and last -- time DiGiorgio will address faculty and staff to mark the opening of an academic year for Winthrop. Only Winthrop’s founder, Dr. David Bancroft Johnson, presided over more openings, serving as president for the first 42 of the institution’s 127 years.
DiGiorgio announced last March that this academic year will be his last before retirement as president next summer. He will take a sabbatical next year, then plans to return to Winthrop as President Emeritus and Distinguished Service Professor.
The transitional time ahead was the theme of DiGiorgio’s remarks, which touched on the larger issues facing U.S. higher education in changing times, as well as the coming transition to Winthrop’s 10th president, who will be selected by the Board of Trustees in early 2013, then take office next summer.
DiGiorgio credited three things as leading to Winthrop’s transformation to the nationally recognized institution it is today: The teamwork of campus faculty and staff, the sense of higher purpose and shared values that has united them over the years, and their love for Winthrop.
“You and I always have had in common a passion for higher education in general and a passion for higher education on the Winthrop campus in particular,” he said, adding that, “Such passion is a quality that I believe the Board’s Search and Selection Committee will look for in the next president of Winthrop as well. For it is having a passion for this enterprise that unites our campus community, regardless of whatever the world beyond our campus may throw in our direction.”
Challenges to higher education will continue to be many, he said. The Great Recession led to still-standing reductions in state operating support to half of what was appropriated to Winthrop as recently as 2006. It took sacrifices, economies, efficiencies and selective investments to keep academic quality high and Winthrop competitive in the marketplace, he recalled.
Those were “calculated risks,” DiGiorgio said, but risks that are rewarding Winthrop now. With its 2005 heart of campus building plan complete and modernization of residence hall space bringing 400 beds back on line, Winthrop this year is able to allow its enrollment to grow as more and more students discover what Winthrop has to offer and apply for admission, DiGiorgio said.
While there is considerable national discussion about on-line learning challenging traditional higher education, DiGiorgio said Winthrop offers the best of both worlds. With 75 courses offered completely on line, and others as a mix of in-person and on-line learning, Winthrop can keep up with 21st century learning preferences, while also providing traditional-age students with the kind of supportive interactions and mentoring in which Winthrop faculty and staff specialize.
In addition, a growing cadre of adult learners – including some returning veterans – this year will receive specialized support through a new Resource Center for Adult Learners that Winthrop has created this year.
Such programs, DiGiorgio said, are examples of Winthrop continuing to live up to what is required of it in state law: that it be a “first-class” institution of higher learning, offering programs and features “as the progress of the times may require.”
Winthrop students will move into campus residence halls starting Friday. Convocation ceremonies will be held Monday afternoon, and classes will begin on Tuesday.