University of South Carolina

Research building named for former USC President Palms

By Jeff Stensland, stenslan@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-3686

Friends of former University of South Carolina president John M. Palms consider him a scientist as much as a former administrator. That’s why they say it’s especially fitting that the Center for Graduate Science Research on Sumter Street has been officially renamed to honor Palms, the first academic building in more than four decades to bear the name of a university president.

“John Palms has been—and is today—a scientist at his very core,” said current USC President Harris Pastides, who was recruited to lead the then-School of Public Health during Palms’ tenure.

Palms, 77, is a nuclear physicist who led USC for 11 years from 1991-2002. The $36 million, 158,000 square-foot Science Research facility opened in 2000. It provides lab space for 250 researchers and is home to the chemistry and biochemistry departments.

“It’s a wonderful facility, and I’m extremely honored by the naming,” Palms said.

Palms is a native of the Netherlands who immigrated to the United States as a teen. He earned a degree in physics from the Citadel and served as Nuclear Scientific Officer in the U.S. Air Force scientists before embarking on a career that included stints at Los Alamos National Laboratory and teaching at the U.S. Air Force Academy.  He rose up the administrative ranks while a faculty member at Emory University and served as president of Georgia State University before coming to USC.

Observers point to Palms’ 11-year tenure as a period of renewed emphasis on research, rising academic standards and ambitious infrastructure growth.  He was credited with shepherding a master plan that included new residence halls, the Greek Village and state-of-the-art research space.  He also launched the university’s successful $500 million fundraising campaign that coincided with the school’s bicentennial.

But it was Palms’ ability to restore confidence and strengthen the credibility of USC that won him the highest praise Friday.

 “He changed the tone,” said USC trustee William Hubbard. “This became a much more civil place.”

Palms, who currently serves on several corporate boards, said he was humbled by the accolades but insisted equal credit goes to wife of 55 years, Norma Palms.

“She’s my buddy. My heart and soul,” Palms said. “I couldn’t have done what I’ve done without her.”

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Posted: 11/19/12 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 11/20/12 @ 9:20 AM | Permalink