The Daily Gamecock

Board of trustees votes Caslen as USC president despite campus protests

The board of trustees selected Gen. Robert Caslen as the 29th president of the University of South Carolina during its Friday meeting. He will begin his job on Sept. 16 and will make $650,000 a year.

The board voted for Caslen 11-8. Trustee William C. Hubbard abstained.

Caslen currently serves as senior counsel to the president at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and interim chief financial officer. Before UCF, he was in the military for 43 years and served as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. 

Caslen's candidacy for USC president caused controversy on campus. Almost half of trustees voted against Caslen and some expressed their reasoning being Gov. Henry McMaster's interference with the presidential search.

Gov. Henry McMaster serves as ex-officio chairman of the board, and his office released a statement saying he believes Caslen is "supremely qualified." In early July, McMaster forced the board to a vote on Caslen.

However, the board of trustees had to postpone the July 12 meeting after Judge Robert Hood placed a temporary injunction on the vote. The law states board of trustees members must have written and verbal communication five days prior to a meeting, but members were notified July 9, only three days prior to the originally scheduled meeting. The vote was postponed to this Friday, when Caslen was named next university president.

During Friday's meeting, trustee Charles Williams said, "This thing stinks with politics," about the search and asked where McMaster was at the meeting, noting his absence.

Trustee Richard Jones said, “[Caslen] is a very successful leader and I must admit I have a great admiration for the military," and he feared Caslen will be gone if USC didn't select him now.

One of the things that raised concerns among many students was his comment that the culture of binge drinking is a main factor in sexual assault.

"We want to take out some of the contributing measures towards sexual assault, particularly the alcohol," Caslen said at a student forum. "We spent a lot of time, a lot of energy training and educating our students on the impact, consequences of alcohol, binge drinking and things like that."

Caslen was considered a favorite among the presidential candidates for the board, however some students and faculty disagreed with his views and considered him unqualified for the position. Because of this, students and faculty protested in the Alumni Center during the initial vote in April.

The protesters said they were mainly concerned with Caslen’s lack of a terminal degree and lack of experience with a university like USC.

“This is real, this matters," Ethan Magnuson, a second-year political science and geography student, said. "This is going to determine the future of the university.”

Following protests, the board of trustees did not choose a president, but instead named USC — Upstate chancellor Brendan Kelly as interim, spending $137,000 on a failed presidential search.

In April, Caslen spoke to faculty, students and the public about his plans for the university. During the forums, Caslen said if he becomes president he wants his first priority to be listening to what students, faculty and staff are saying as well as getting to know people.

My intent here is to know as many students as I can, to engage with them in as many opportunities that are out there and to make sure my calendar is free often enough to visit them in their classrooms, to visit their laboratories, to visit them on the athletic fields, to attend their home and away games,” Caslen said.

President Harris Pastides will retire on July 31.