A letter to the editor and for the members of the Board of Trustees,
I write with great frustration in response to news reports that Governor McMaster is pressuring members of the Board of Trustees to move forward with a vote on the appointment of Robert Caslen as the next president of the University of South Carolina.
To be sure, there is much to admire about Caslen, including his service to the country and his tenure as the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy (West Point). It is clear to even the casual observer, however, that Governor McMaster is attempting to circumvent the opposition of faculty and students to Caslen’s appointment. As an alumnus who proudly served as a student ambassador at the university and who makes a monthly contribution to USC's Department of Political Science, I am struck by this seeming disdain for the expressed preferences of the core constituencies of the university. Moreover, I am troubled by reports that some members of the board find this move a good, reasonable and acceptable one.
Having spent all of my adult life in university settings—as an undergraduate student at the University of South Carolina, a graduate student at the University of Michigan and now as a tenure-track faculty member at Stanford University—I know the importance of having a university leader who has the support and trust of students and faculty. These are challenging times for university campuses.
There is much that divides this country, and these divides shape the experiences of students, both inside and outside the classroom. As an early career scholar learning to navigate the intricacies of a major research university that places many demands on its faculty, I can also tell you how important it is to have a leader who understands what it means to be a faculty member at an institution like the University of South Carolina. Simply put, the University of South Carolina is not West Point, and the kinds of skills that may have served Caslen well at West Point are not the full set of skills needed to manage a major research institution like USC.
For this reason alone, Caslen’s appointment as president of the University of South Carolina should give us great pause. Coupled with the critiques raised by many who are currently at the University of South Carolina, and the fact that other candidates garnered a great deal more support than Caslen, I urge the Board of Trustees to resist pressure from Governor McMaster to move forward with this vote. And though I love the University of South Carolina and am proud to support it financially, I will have no choice but to withhold all future contributions if the board chooses to bow to this pressure. And I will encourage other alumni to join me in withholding their financial support as well.
I trust that the Board will listen carefully to the university’s various constituencies and stakeholders, and will reopen the search for the university’s next president.
I, and many others, will be watching closely.
University of South Carolina Class of 2011
Assistant Professor of Political Science