Much like the University of Mississippi during the controversial selection of Glenn Boyce, the University of South Carolina faced controversy this year when choosing the 29th president, former West Point superintendent Robert Caslen, in July.
The choice raised concerns for the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools, the commission that accredits the university, when news of Gov. Henry McMaster’s involvement in the selection broke. The commission’s standards require selections must be “undue influence by external persons or bodies.”
Without accreditation, students may not receive federal financial aid, and future graduates might not be eligible for graduate school.
Harris Pastides, president of the University of South Carolina before the debacle, led the university for 11 years. His retirement kicked off the search for the next president. After the search was narrowed to four candidates, students and faculty protested the lack of a female candidate amongst the finalists.
The finalists each held their own forum on campus.
Caslen sparked controversy during his forum with a comment connecting alcohol as a cause of sexual assault.
“We want to take out some of the contributing measures towards sexual assault, particularly the alcohol,” Caslen said. “We spent a lot of time, a lot of energy training and educating our students on the impact.”
After Caslen became the frontrunner, many in the university’s community showed concern over Caslen’s lack of doctorate and lack of experience in a civilian university. In April, students and faculty marched to the Alumni Center where the Board of Trustees were to vote.
After announcing an interim president, the board was silent until the summer, when McMaster called in board members for a vote. Leading up the vote, the university’s faculty senate passed two resolutions opposing Caslen.
“This thing stinks with politics,” trustee Charles H. Williams said of the search.
A court injunction delayed the meeting, but the board eventually approved Caslen 11-8-1.