After years as the vice president for university relations, Jeff Perez will be spending the next few weeks packing up his office and arranging to move on from his current position. While he may be leaving Winthrop behind, he said that his future will continue to look bright.
Perez will be departing Winthrop to become the president and CEO of South Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities Inc. on Oct. 29. This marks the end of a four-year tenure at Winthrop that began in 2014 and the beginning of his new career at the organization.
The SCICU, stationed in Columbia, serves as a voice for over 20 independent universities and some 30,000 students across the state by offering monetary support and curating a place for collaboration for its member institutions. It also works to further state legislation, supporting higher education.
Though he said that he will never forget his time at Winthrop, Perez said that he is enthusiastic about putting his long career in higher education to use while working at the organization.
“I think It’s important that I have the background in government relations… but I also understand academic enterprise, having a doctorate in American history, and I’ve worked for 5 campus presidents and 2 system chancellors, so I really understand the daily challenges that the campus leaders face, so I can really represent their needs,” Perez said.
Perez’s skills in communication made him a potential candidate for the presidency; he was quickly named as the successor to previous president, Mike LeFever, at a board meeting on Sept. 26. He has previously held positions in the field of higher education, including director of communication services at the State University of New York, and a 5-year tenure as vice president for external affairs at The Citadel.
While he has had experience in executive roles, this will be Perez’s first time acting as president and CEO for an organization. He said that he looks forward to the challenges and benefits this role carries.
“I think some of the challenges are, first, getting to know the campuses and their leadership… what’s important in this position is building those relationships [and] reacquainting myself with legislators and public officials in Columbia in my new capacity and representing SCICU,” Perez said.
Despite the challenge, Perez said that he is looking forward to fulfilling his new responsibilities as president.
“When you’re the president the book stops with you. And I’m looking forward to having that responsibility, to really be ultimately responsible for the future of the organization [and] helping it to grow and better serve the member institutions,” Perez said.
Perez said that he has always believed the president has a major responsibility to their organizations or universities. He joined Winthrop during an ethics scandal involving former-university president, Jamie Comstock Williamson. He said that this made him seek to rebuild communications and public relations in the aftermath.
Perez had worked under 3 university presidents to create communication strategies, consolidated government relations, communication, marketing and university events into a single division, helping grow the university’s visibility within communities, both within York County and across the state.
He said that he has mixed emotions when thinking about leaving Winthrop behind. Perez said that he is able to look back fondly on his work at Winthrop, including the creation and unveiling of the current Winthrop logo in February.