Once again I’m (reluctantly) stepping onto my soapbox to talk about USC’s presidential search scandal. I’ve said it before and I’ll repeat it until the sun explodes: USC’s presidential selection process was crooked through and through.
Tainted by partisan politics and self-interest, last July’s board of trustees vote to hire Gen. Robert Caslen was a betrayal of student and faculty trust and a disgrace to this great university. This week’s report from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) just confirmed what we already know.
It stated Gov. Henry McMaster corrupted a good-faith process by exercising “undue influence” to lobby fellow trustees for his preferred candidate, Caslen, and to call a surprise vote on his hiring in July instead of extending the search process into the fall semester, as was originally planned.
SACSCOC has given the university two years to bring its practices into compliance with its standards. If the university fails to do so, it could lose its accreditation.
By jeopardizing the university’s accreditation, McMaster and the board of trustees have threatened the careers of students and faculty alike. Though loss of accreditation is unlikely, the SACSCOC report and subsequent monitoring period alone will likely handicap both new faculty recruitment and donor development — potentially resulting in lower national rankings for institutions such as our honors college, for instance, and decreased university attendance.
Now, why am I telling you all of this?
I am writing this piece for two reasons. First and foremost, to remind you these were risks McMaster was willing to take when he catalyzed this chain of events last summer.
When he is up for reelection, consider the fact he prioritized his personal preference for a presidential candidate over the rules of process and the interests of his constituency at this university. Consider how his staff (and some of the trustees) talked about students and faculty when they thought nobody would hear, disparaging them and decrying any resistance to their actions as manifestations of a leftist conspiracy. Remember, they are in power to represent and serve you, and the responsibility falls on you to remind them.
The second reason I’m writing this is to advise you on next steps. Counterintuitively, despite the scandal associated with his hiring, I think the most reasonable thing to do now is to give Caslen the opportunity to prove himself.
Thus far, none of the information released about the presidential selection process has impugned Caslen’s character. There’s no evidence he conspired with McMaster to take the presidency. In fact, trustee John C. von Lehe Jr. told SACSCOC that McMaster forced an early vote because he was afraid they would lose Caslen to another university. Additionally, there is little to suggest McMaster and Caslen even knew each other prior to the presidential search — McMaster referred to him as “Caslan” in texts to fellow trustees.
McMaster choosing Caslen was likely a calculation based on his credentials and (assumed) political leanings rather than a personal connection with the man. With that in mind, there is little justification to go to the stress and expense of impeaching Caslen and reopening the selection process. To be sure, everyone should still keep an eye on him — he will be the one responsible for assuaging the fears of SACSCOC — but also give him room to do his job.
If any reason to oppose his presidency arises, I will be the first to point it out; however, if his leadership over the past semester has been any indication, he will be fine president for our university.
In summary, give McMaster and the trustees hell, but cut President Caslen some slack. If you do, this new decade has the potential to be among USC’s best.