South Carolina State University President James E. Clark describes his work days as “intense.”
And in the last couple of weeks, they are even more so, with preparations for the university’s homecoming going on.
“I might be up at 6, out at 7, to try to get here by 8,” he said. “But I try not to have any meetings before 10 because I might stay here very, very late and I live in Columbia.”
There are many meetings, some in the city, some back in Columbia, he said.
“For example, yesterday I came here, had meetings and I had to leave at noon for a 1 o’clock meeting with the Commission on Higher Education. Then 3 o’clock, back here for another series of meetings,” he said.
“I was here over into the night. We talked about a variety of things,” he said, including reviewing homecoming events involving media entrepreneur and S.C. State alum Armstrong Williams.
Williams will be broadcasting his radio program from Homecoming, Clark said, so there are the logistics of that and also of the dedication of the rose garden at Legacy Park to Williams’ mother on Saturday.
“We worked through the logistics of the (I.P. Stanback) museum and planetarium, and plaques and making sure they’re right, and working with the donors there,” he said.
There were the details of the homecoming visit by reigning Miss USA Kara McCullough, an S.C. State graduate.
And “we’re hoping to meet with the governor. The governor’s schedule is changing and we’re having to readjust that and make sure that’s done and get out the appropriate press releases,” he said.
There are also the preparations to have live video streaming of the homecoming football game against Howard University, he said.
He has to find time to work on collaborative partnerships with other entities or to talk to donors, updating them on new developments. The heavy workload makes for busy, whirlwind days.
“So the days are busy. I could be meeting with students, I could be walking the grounds, I could be meeting with parents,” he said.
When Clark does find a quiet moment, he often walks the campus, sometimes watching the football team practice and pausing to chat with the NFL scouts in attendance.
“Or sometimes when I’m leaving late, I can hear the band playing. I go out and kind of watch them or listen to them and cheer them on,” he said. “I remind them that they’ve got to keep it ‘tight.’”
Working for a public academic institution has been an adjustment for Clark. A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and MIT’s Sloan School for Management with degrees in electrical engineering and computer science and a master’s in management, he previously served as vice president of a $1 billion division of AT&T.
“In the private sector, I had more control of my day,” he said. “And in the private sector, I could do things faster and ... I had more resources at my disposal, even with the smaller companies.”
“In the private sector, you don’t get as many external interruptions. Things are planned and structured and you have time where you can manage by walking around as well as structured meetings and move faster,” he said.
With the university, “there are so many rules that constrain the pace at which you can do things,” he said.
He said that the one of the best parts of his job is the “pleasant surprises and compliments from people that I never knew.”
He said that a while back, he ran into an older woman at a supermarket in Columbia. She was wearing an S.C. State sweater, and he asked her about it.
“And she very proudly said, ‘Yes, sir, class of 1955!’” he said.
The woman then spotted his S.C. State lapel pin. After telling her that he was the new president of the university, the woman got excited.
“She called her daughter, she called her best friend (to say) she was with ‘her president,’” he said.
He said he is happy for “that connection, that affinity, that love that’s shared with you, especially by the alums.”
He said the worst part of his job is dealing with what he refers to as the “street committee.”
“The rumor mills and just lies -- sometimes people just make stuff up out of whole cloth,” he said. “And it’s detrimental to the university.
“It’s totally fabricated, but people get half of a sentence and they put that with something else and something else. And the next thing you know, you’re like, ‘What?’” he said.
“And it’s like, ‘Don’t people have better things to do than just make stuff up that’s detrimental?’” he said.
“When someone just pulls the pin on a hand grenade and throws it into the crowd based on no fact at all, that kind of torques me,” he said. “If you have a question, ask me and I will give you the straight-up answer.”
But all in all, he said, S.C. State had “a really great year.”
“We have a lot of wonderful things that we are planning for the upcoming year,” he said. “I see a significant upside for the university.”
In his spare time, Clark has a passion for flying airplanes. He is a licensed pilot with more than 25 years of experience and first became enamored with flying as a child watching crop dusters.
“I don’t get to do it as much now, just busy all the time,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get to a point where I have a little more time to do a little bit more of that.”