Dr. David Shi

The Great Recession and the Revival of Simplicity

Dr. David Shi shared his insights about the supposed revival of frugality and simplicity prompted by the Great Recession of the last three years.

President Emeritus, Furman University; historian and cultural commentator

David E. Shi served as the 10th president of Furman University from 1994 to 2010. An Atlanta native and a 1973 Furman graduate, he joined the university administration in 1993 as vice president for academic affairs and dean.

During Shi’s presidential tenure, Furman solidified its stature as one of the nation’s finest liberal arts colleges. Applications to the university increased 75 percent, faculty salaries improved dramatically, the endowment quadrupled, the academic profile of the student body rose, and the campus benefited from more than $210 million in new construction and renovation.

 Shi was also a champion of the university’s emphasis on engaged learning, energy conservation and environmental stewardship.  Under his direction, Furman became a national leader in promoting sustainability.   Shi was a charter signatory of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment in 2006.  During his presidency, Furmanbuilt the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental) certified building in South Carolina (there are now 7 LEED-certified buildings on campus).  In March 2010, Furman’s Board of Trustees named the university’s dazzling new Center for Sustainability in honor of Shi.  Also in early 2010, Upstate Forever, a regional environmental advocacy organization, bestowed on President Shi its Lifetime Achievement Award.

A leading figure in American higher education, Shi is a past chair of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. He served on the Chronicle of Higher Education/New York TimesHigher Education Cabinet and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U). He is also a board member of Second Nature, the non-profit organization based in Boston that is responsible for administering the Presidents’ Climate Commitment. In 2003 he received the Presidential Leadership Award from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Shi came to Furman from Davidson College, where he taught for 17 years and was the Frontis W. Johnston Professor of History. He won the Distinguished Teaching Award and also served as chair of the history department from 1987 to 1992.

Shi graduated magna cum laude from Furman with a degree in political science. He was a stellar member of the Paladin football team and was named to the All-Southern Conference team after his sophomore and junior years. He went on to earn M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in history at the University of Virginia.

A specialist in intellectual and cultural history, he is the author of several books, including Matthew Josephson, Bourgeois Bohemian (Yale University Press, 1980),The Simple Life: Plain Living and High Thinking in American Culture (Oxford University Press, 1985), which was a History Book Club selection, and Facing Facts: Realism in American Thought and Culture, 1850-1920 (Oxford University Press, 1994). He is also co-author, with the late George B. Tindall, of the best-selling textbook America: a Narrative History (W. W. Norton), now in its eighth edition.

Shi is a prolific newspaper essayist.  He has published several hundred of columns in newspapers such as The Greenville News, The Christian Science Monitor, The Charlotte Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the Philadelphia Inquirer, among others. His columns and essays are also heard on the South Carolina network of National Public Radio.  A collection of his speeches, essays and columns has been published under the title The Bell Tower and Beyond: Reflections on Learning and Life.

In 2003 President Shi was named Greenville Magazine Business Person of the Year, and the same year, he and his wife, Susan, received the Whitney M. Young, Jr., Humanitarian Award, the highest honor given by the Urban League of the Upstate. They were also named among Greenville’s “Top 25 Leaders” in a community poll conducted by The Greenville News.  In 2010, the Shis were honored by the Community Foundation of Greenville and G: The Magazine of Greenville as recipients of the 2010 Lifetime of Giving Back Award, recognizing their individual contributions and their extensive community involvement.

Shi has received honorary degrees from Centre College and Mercer University. In 1999 he was among an elite group of 50 college and university presidents recognized by the John Templeton Foundation for their outstanding leadership in the development of student character. The previous year, Furman was awarded a $150,000 Presidential Leadership grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation in recognition of Shi’s leadership.

A member of Phi Beta Kappa, Shi has been a Fellow of the National Humanities Center in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, and the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. In recent years, he has been a board member of the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education, the National Commerce Financial Corporation, the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, the Urban League of the Upstate, the Metropolitan Arts Council, the South Carolina ETV Endowment, and the Piedmont Natural Gas Corporation. He also chaired the Southern Conference Council of Presidents and the Southern University Conference of Presidents. Known especially for his work in building stronger ties between Furman and the Greenville community, he co-chaired Vision 2025, the long-range planning process to make Greenville an even better place to live and work.


Event Information

The Great Recession and the Revival of Simplicity

Share