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Brendan Kelly

University of South Carolina interim president-elect

The University of South Carolina is proud to welcome Brendan Kelly to serve as the university's interim president-elect. 

Interim President-elect at a Glance

Name Brendan Kelly
Hometown Flint, Michigan
Most Recent Position
USC Upstate Chancellor
Educational Background Bachelor’s in public relations, Eastern Michigan University
Master’s in communication, Eastern Michigan University
Doctorate in rhetoric and political communication, Wayne State University 
Inspired by Students

"Every student you meet, you ask, ‘Where did you come from and where are you going?’ and they’ve got a story fueled by optimism and inspiration that they’ve derived from experiences with faculty and the university community.”


The search for the University of South Carolina’s next president continues, but don’t expect a slowdown in campus operations when Interim President-elect Brendan Kelly takes office Aug. 1.

Kelly, USC Upstate’s chancellor since March of 2017, was named to the interim position when university trustees decided to continue the presidential search after considering four finalists to succeed Harris Pastides. Pastides will retire July 31 after 11 years as the institution’s 28th president.

“At a large public university like this, nothing should stop or be put on hold even for a short time,” Kelly says. “There is a tremendous amount of talent in this university that is doing great work every day. You don’t stop doing great work because there’s a transition at the top.”

As one of three chancellors in the university system, Kelly is keenly familiar with the university’s major projects and priorities on the Columbia campus.

“As part of the leadership team for the USC System, I’m familiar with all of the important projects and priorities and I’m going to continue to push to advance the university on those fronts,” says Kelly, who previously led the university advancement division at the University of West Florida. “There’s broad agreement about some of the key things that this institution needs, so I think there’s a lot of progress that can be made.

Kelly, whose family will divide its time between Spartanburg and Columbia, likens his role to that of a choirmaster.

“There are many constituencies, many voices at our university, and we are trying to take them and orchestrate into a choir,” he says.

Kelly particularly relishes the opportunities to meet key stakeholders, especially students. 

“When you work for a public university, you’re surrounded by people who are going places. Every student you meet, you ask, ‘Where did you come from and where are you going?’ and they’ve got a story fueled by optimism and inspiration that they’ve derived from experiences with faculty and the university community,” says Kelly, who began his higher education career as a professor of speech.

“You’ve got people at this university right now who are enrolled in master’s and doctoral programs and medical school and law school and a myriad of undergraduate programs, and they are transforming who they are and who they will be. It’s inspiring!”

Kelly is focused on engaging stakeholders for the university.

“The University of South Carolina has an incredible array of different stakeholders from students and faculty to alumni and legislators. I am interested in dedicating my time to continuing to nurture their relationships with the university.”

Since becoming chancellor of USC Upstate, Kelly has articulated an ambitious vision for the university aimed at creating transformative opportunities for students and the communities of South Carolina’s Upstate region and beyond. Kelly and his leadership team have positioned Upstate as a top public, regional comprehensive university in the Southeast — one that is focused on maximizing the institution’s ability to educate students, is deeply connected to industry and is purposefully involved in the community.

USC Upstate is highly ranked for excellence in performance by U.S. News & World Report, at No. 2 among public regional universities in the South.

Brendan Kelly

Prior to joining USC Upstate, Kelly managed the Division of University Advancement at the University of West Florida, directed the School of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts and chaired the communication arts department. He joined the UWF faculty in 2004, serving as director of the institution’s nationally recognized speech and debate program. Specializing in speech communication training, Kelly has taught courses in political communication, speech communication, communication ethics and various areas related to strategic communication. Previously, he was vice president for advancement at the University of West Florida, where he led the units of university marketing and communications, alumni relations, development, community engagement and more.

Kelly earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a master’s degree in communication from Eastern Michigan University, and a doctorate in rhetoric and political communication from Wayne State University in Detroit.

He and his wife, Tressa Kelly, have three children: Bree, Liam and Kieran.