Feature Image: University of South Carolina
The search for a new president of South Carolina’s flagship university has sparked a political controversy – one that has brought strong opinions from both sides of the aisle. After word got out that Governor McMaster pressured the entire University of South Carolina’s Board of Trustees to hold a vote on whether to elect Lt. General Robert Caslen as the next university president, students, as well as some Democratic state lawmakers, were in an uproar. Meanwhile, McMaster received praise from Republican politicians and activists for his involvement.
After coming close to selecting a new president in April of this year, the Board of Trustees backed out at the last minute, naming USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly as interim president. Although no new president was selected, the search process cost the University $137,000. At this point, it had appeared that the Board had moved on from naming General Lt.-Gen. Caslen as president and instead shifted their focus towards three other candidates. Lt.-Gen. Caslen, the former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, was one of the four presidential finalists to replace prior president, Harris Pastides, who announced his intention to retire as president in October of 2018.
On Tuesday, under pressure from Governor McMaster, it was announced that the USC Board of Trustees would hold a vote on Friday, July 12, 2019, to decide whether Lt.-Gen. Caslen would be the next president of the university. While some students activists were strongly opposed to the idea of a vote to decide on the next university president, the longest-serving board of trustees member, Eddie Floyd, supported the governor’s involvement and said he would vote in favor of Lt.-Gen. Caslen at Friday’s meeting.
Political views aside, the meeting was blocked by Richland County Circuit Court Judge Robert Hood who issued a temporary injunction on Thursday afternoon, preventing the board from meeting and casting a vote on Lt.-Gen. Caslen. State law requires USC’s Board of Trustees to receive a written and mailed notice five days before a meeting, but notices for Friday’s meeting to vote on the former West Point Superintendent did not go out until Tuesday. The Board trustee who filed the motion, Charles Williams, is a vocal opponent of Lt.-Gen. Caslen and MacMaster.
According to a letter written by McMaster to USC Board Chair, John Von Lehe, McMaster was planning to postpone the meeting before the court order was signed. The Governor’s office wanted to make it clear he was not the one calling the meeting, even if it had appeared that way. Shortly before Judge Hood’s order preventing the vote from happening, a group of USC faculty members passed a motion of no confidence in Lt.-Gen. Caslen. Faculty feared a vote for Lt.-Gen. Caslen would set a dangerous precedent of allowing the current or any future governor to run the university.