Hannah Wade / The Daily Gamecock

Opinion: No neutrality on USC president

In July, it was difficult to be neutral on the Caslen controversy. Today, it’s impossible.

Despite studying political science, I generally tend to avoid taking public stances on political issues. For most of my tenure at The Daily Gamecock, I have stayed out of state and university politics. Instead, I have stuck to writing editorials about non-partisan campus topics like student fees and meal plans. I have never considered myself a political activist.

I’ve always envisioned myself as a diplomatic moderate, willing to hear both sides. However, this often results in fence-sitting.

When I first became aware of the presidential selection controversy, I was content to stay on the fence. Nonetheless, as the details of the political circus continue to emerge, maintaining my polite neutrality has become morally untenable. I waited patiently to hear both sides of the issue and now, I’ve heard enough. 

The evidence is overwhelming: Gov. Henry McMaster and members of the board of trustees intentionally circumvented a good faith selection process and did so not in furtherance of student and faculty interests, but in spite of them.

In July, McMaster disregarded the student and faculty outcry against Caslen and called for a legally dubious vote on his candidacy. This effectively undermined the board of trustees’ vote in April to continue the presidential search and betrayed the trust of students and faculty who expected the board to wait until the fall to pursue further action. This was not a lapse in McMaster’s judgement, but rather part of a larger series of decisions meant to serve his own political interests. 

It’s clear McMaster never had any intention of continuing the presidential search. In a June 21 text to trustee Dan Adams, McMaster said “I fully support any and all efforts to hire General Caslan [sic].” In the weeks immediately preceding his sudden push for a vote, despite being an ex-officio member of the USC board and being barred from leveraging his governorship to influence university matters, McMaster called trustees individually to lobby for Caslen. 

Furthermore, McMaster’s chief of staff, Trey Walker, attempted to market Caslen as political asset to local politicians. Walker texted Sen. Dick Harpootlian, “I think you will have a strong ally in your Five Points efforts w/ Gen Caslen as USC president.” He also characterized opposition to Caslen as leftist, texting trustees Westbrook and Mobley “Our friends on the left played their part perfectly,” and after Caslen’s election, texting trustee Adams “The Democrats hate us. We took their castle.

While McMaster and Walker independently pulled many strings, the board of trustees hands' weren’t clean either. Several trustees actively encouraged McMaster to continue calling holdouts on the board to advocate for Caslen and in trustee Adams’ words, to “shore [them] up.” Trustees also circumvented accountability requirements. Three of them met in a secret quorum — violating the state’s open-records law — on two separate occasions to discuss how to get Caslen elected. 

On multiple occasions, the trustees dismissed and disparaged both students and faculty. Trustee Burroughs was caught on a hot mic saying protesters at the July board vote were comprised of “that Kamala Harris crowd” and were “from out of town.” Trustee Fennell said the “radical left faculty and students ‘threatened’ us,” and after seeing a Fox News segment he believed radical leftists were trying to control conservative board members. Caslen himself made a similar insinuation, saying “the press is fully on board with these radical, extremist ideas,” though he later took back the statement and claimed it was directed solely at those who attacked him and his military service personally.

McMaster and members of the board of trustees have flagrantly disregarded procedure and subverted accountability. 

That is unacceptable. 

McMaster’s office and the board of trustees antagonized the students and faculty they are meant to represent, labelling anything other than absolute loyalty (or silent fence-riding) radical and extremist. That is unacceptable. 

When the stakes were low, I felt I could justify not addressing this issue. But now that this political spectacle has besmirched the reputation of this university,  jeopardized its accreditation and potentially threatened the careers of faculty and students, I would be remiss not to use my platform to draw a line in the sand. 

Neutrality is permissible only so long as you are ignorant. When you learn the facts, you have a responsibility to choose a side and advocate for it. The facts show several of the university's leaders conspired to install a new president contrary to the interests of faculty and students. They failed us and deserve to be removed from their posts. 

The faculty senate took a bold step last week when they passed a motion of no confidence against the board of trustees. Now it's the students' turn. The university deserves better. Demand better.


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