File photo: Hannah Wade / The Daily Gamecock

Campus reacts to Gov. McMaster's interference with presidential search

Following his announcement to withdraw his application in the presidential search, Gen. Robert L. Caslen is once again in the running to become USC's next president.

Gov. Henry McMaster forced a vote by the Board of Trustees in an attempt to confirm Caslen as president this Friday, according to trustee Charles H. Williams. Caslen was met with protests from students and faculty alike following his public forum during last semester's presidential search.

Students, faculty and alumni have been responding to the news on social media after it was first reported by The State early this morning.

Jawaun McClam, a fourth-year geography student, said when he first read the news on Twitter he thought, "this can't be real." 

McClam was part of the original protests against Caslen and said he preferred former candidate William Tate. While McClam is open to hearing Caslen speak at another forum, he still wants the university to consider other candidates before deciding on Caslen.

McClam also said after spending a lot of time being involved on campus, he feels betrayed by the news.

"We always said at the University of South Carolina we have no limits, but after hearing about this, it just feels like, I feel limited," McClam said.

Hensley Tran, a third-year biology student, also preferred Tate and participated in the April protests at the Alumni Center. While she said the outcome of the protest felt like a "small but sweet victory," she said this current news "feels like a slap in the face."

"I believe our governor has decided to force the vote over summer break when much of the student body is not in Columbia in order to "ensure" that there will not be a protest as there was before; but on our watch, that is just not the case," Tran said in an email interview. “It just goes to show the lack of respect for the student body, but also the possible fear of the student protestors.

Former student body president Taylor Wright also voiced his concerns on Twitter.

"I've avoided talking about the presidential search but this makes me sick. Ignoring the (very serious & credible) concerns of the majority of the students, faculty, & staff is wrong on every level. @henrymcmaster I really hope this is not true...," Wright tweeted. 

Although many students have voiced their opinions on Twitter, some, including McClam, have been criticized on the app for choosing to do so. Tran said she feels “many of the student protestors on social media are being reduced to children in the minds of many attackers.”

“We are not clueless to the situation at hand nor are we sitting idly. Rather, we are conducting our research and voicing what we believe in, although that isn't what it seems to be to many bigots,” Tran said. 

In addition to students, faculty members have expressed their displeasure with the university.

Bethany Bell, faculty welfare committee chair and associate professor in the College of Social Work, said she thinks if the vote occurs as planned then it will damage student and faculty trust in the board.

"I'm still just kind of shell shocked that McMaster would try to meddle in what is a university process," Bell said. "I'm really afraid we're going to have major mass exodus if Caslen is the new president."

Heather Brandt, an associate professor of the Department of Health Promotion, Education and Behavior, said she was disappointed when she read the news.

Brandt said the Board of Trustees decided to pass on Caslen last April because he "lacked suitable qualifications and expertise to serve as the next president of a high-level, doctorally-granting research institution."

Since it hasn't been three months since that decision, Brandt said she doesn't believe he's gained the proper qualifications he lacked then.

"Therefore, he remains unqualified to serve as the next president of UofSC - in spite of his many accomplishments as a leader serving our country, which I acknowledge and respect," Brandt said in an email interview.

At the final faculty meeting in May, faculty passed around a resolution affirming faculty and student participation in the presidential search, however McMaster's actions ignore this resolution.

"Any subsequent action is happening behind closed doors without the opportunity for faculty, staff, student, and alumni input," Brandt said.

Mark Cooper, faculty senate chair elect and film and media studies professor, said there is a process problem with McMaster's plan to force a vote while most students and faculty are away from campus during summer.

Cooper said the resolution passed during the faculty meeting in April proves the faculty thought the presidential search was working accordingly.

Cooper pointed to how a majority of the comments students and faculty wrote after Caslen visited campus during the presidential search were skeptical of his ability to serve USC.

Carl R. Wells, president of the Black Faculty Association, launched a survey on Tuesday afternoon requesting that USC affiliates voice their concerns. 

As of Tuesday evening, the survey received over 170 responses.

"This man does not have the same experience that the other two candidates have. There should be reconsideration over this decision. He is NOT the future of this school," read one response.

Another said, "This is an appalling abuse of power. McMaster should be ashamed of himself- nobody wants Caslen as president; he's even expressed disinterest based on his reception from the students and faculty."

In response to the outcry on campus, Student Government released an official statement regarding student concerns. 

"We know many of you have seen the articles published today about the search for the next president of our great University and are concerned. We hear you," the statement said. 

On Wednesday, Student Government will hold a student forum at 5 p.m. in the Williams-Brice Nursing Building Auditorium. 

Lyric Swinton, a fourth-year sports and entertainment management student who protested in April, is a leader in the protest efforts. 

Swinton said she believes it is important for USC students to make their voices heard.

"Freedom of speech and the right to assemble are constitutional rights. Many of our nation's great movements including the Civil Rights Movement, was led by the diligence and sacrifice of college students," Swinton said. "If we want any change to happen, it is imperative that college students lead the way and let their voices be heard."

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