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Politics

Harris Pastides: from Astoria to USC Presidency

 

COLUMBIA, SC – Presidential politics endured for several weeks at a frenzied pace in South Carolina, culminating in the Republican and Democratic Primaries on February 20 and 23, respectively, defining the momentum as the election season approaches the all-important, delegate-rich Super Tuesday (to be held on March 1).

The University of South Carolina (USC), in the state’s capital city Columbia, has been in the spotlight throughout, hosting Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, and Republicans Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and John Kasich.
Astoria-born Harris Pastides, USC’s President since 2008, spoke with The National Herald at length about USC’s “electric” political atmosphere, his journey from the St. Demetrios parish to Columbia, pride in and gratitude for his Hellenic heritage, and how while growing up, this newspaper’s sister publication, National Herald-Ethnikos Kyrix was a staple in his home.

CYPRIAN ROOTS

Pastides parents, Andreas and Anastasia, emigrated from the Cyprian city of Famagusta (now part of the Turkish-occupied North) to Astoria in 1948 with his older sister, Barbara, who was around two years old at the time. Pastides was born in 1954 “and St. Demetrios was my home parish, until St. Katherine’s was built” in another part of Astoria. Pastides attended Sunday school and Greek afternoon school, and “we spoke Greek at home, I grew up bilingual.”

Andreas owned a restaurant, the Star Food Shop, in Washington Heights, “but he didn’t want us working there. My mom and I would visit on Saturdays, mostly to hang out and eat.” Anastasia did work for a while, as a seamstress for Rogers Peet, “but my dad wanted her at home with Barbara and me,” Pastides noted.

Pastides married “a wonderful Irish-American woman and we have two children.” His wife, Patricia Moore-Pastides, is the author of the books Greek Revival: Cooking for Life (2010) and Greek Revival from the Garden: Cooking and Growing for Life – both of which promote the Mediterranean diet. The couple spent a full year in Greece where he worked with renowned Mediterranean diet expert and epidemiologist Dr. Dimitrios Trichopoulos, who passed away in 2014.

The Pastideses have two children: Katharine, who lives in Santa Monica, CA with her husband and two children and is a museum educator, and Andrew, an actor who lives in New York.

FROM ST. D’S TO USC

Pastides’ educational journey took him from Astoria’s St. Demetrios parish to the prestigious Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan. “My parents were so proud that I was accepted there,” he said. After a degree in biology at the State University of New York in Albany – “I used my Regents scholarship to save my parents money” – Pastides earned two master’s degrees and a PhD in epidemiology at Yale University’s School of Public Health; Yale is where he and Patricia, also a student there, met.

Pastides spent 17 years as a professor and then a department chair at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and then headed south, to USC, where he became Dean of its School of Public Health. He was later promoted to Vice President of Research and Health Sciences, and in 2008 was selected as the University’s 28th president.

PALMETTO POLITICS

The political climate “is totally electric,” Pastides described. “Reporters are everywhere. Trucks, cameras, sound equipment.” Pastides speaks with students about politics all the time. While he remains neutral insofar as not promoting one candidate over another, he makes sure to teach them about the importance of voting. “I tell them the story of how my parents so desperately wanted to become U.S. citizens so they could vote. How I helped them study for their citizenship exam. Voting is a responsibility of citizenship” and so he strongly encourages USC’s students to vote.

USC makes it easier for students to exercise that right and privilege. “Statistically, only half of them will vote,” he says, “but we are actively working on it, making registration more accessible, and transporting students by van to polling places.”

Pastides sees students political interest mainly focuses on two issues: 1) the environment – sustainability and climate change; and 2) the cost of college.

POLITICAL CORRECTNESS

Students on college campuses across the country have demonstrated against what they consider to be unacceptable tolerance of exclusion, not least of which at Pastides’ alma mater Yale, where Silliman College Master and Associate Master Dr. Nicholas and Erika Christakis were targets of student backlash last October for not doing enough, in the students’ view, to ban offensive Halloween costumes (TNH coverage included “Greeks the Targets of Yale Univ. Protests of Insensitivity,” Nov. 14).

“We had a protest in October,” Pastides said, acknowledging that “we are not immune to the national situation. These are not like protests of my generation, but there is a growing willingness to be heard, to be included in an affirming culture. My personal philosophy is to embrace students, work with them, and make them part of finding solutions.”

WHY USC?

Why would a student outside of South Carolina, or outside the United States, want to attend USC? More than anything else, Pastides says, it begins with “the quality of what we offer. We have the number-one ranked International Business School in the country by U.S. News & World Report, the top accelerated honors college in the country, and a highly ranked exercise science public health program.”

There are active study abroad programs, but none in Greece at the moment. “Due to the crisis, it is difficult for Greek universities to pair up with us right now – and our students’ parents are uneasy about the situation there.” But Pastides hopes to revisit that possibility once conditions improve there.

The University also provides the benefit of warmth, both in climate and hospitality, thereby attracting a great many international students, who are paired with families and others “to help them navigate the United States.”

TNH AND IMMIGRANTS

Pastides empathizes with foreign-born students as he is the child of immigrants, and he praises his parents and others of that era “for leaving such a beautiful, idyllic environment to move to cold, rainy Astoria and live in a basement apartment so as to provide a better future for their children. We weren’t rich in the traditional sense, but we were rich in family.”
He praises The National Herald as well. “It was a source of comfort. It is very difficult to come to a foreign land and the Herald made things a little easier. They could read something in their own native tongue and think: ‘we’re not there anymore, but there a lot of other people like us here in New York and throughout the United States.’”

One story Pastides recently read in the Herald was about…himself! As a teenager, “either in junior high or high school” the Ethnikos Kyrix featured him in a story, about his academic achievement. “My parents (now deceased) had saved the article.”

 

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