The Daily Gamecock

Students, faculty, call for diverse presidential candidate pool, candidate who is 'antithesis' of Caslen

<p>Thad Westbrook, chairman of the University of South Carolina Presidential Search Committee, speaks at a town hall Thursday. The committee hosted the town hall so members of the public could have their voices heard.</p>

Thad Westbrook, chairman of the University of South Carolina Presidential Search Committee, speaks at a town hall Thursday. The committee hosted the town hall so members of the public could have their voices heard.

Students and faculty called for a candidate who is dedicated to diversity and who has experience with administration and scholarly research during Thursday's town halls.

"I think a lot of us are thinking of looking for somebody who is the antithesis of what President Caslen was for our university," Alexa Dean, an undergraduate academic advisor, said. 

It was disappointing to watch Bob Caslen's administration at USC, Dean said. 

Jill Stewart, an associate professor of exercise science, said during the COVID-19 pandemic it was "quite evident sometimes that the upper admin did not understand what we do as researchers," and student body secretary for sustainability Harrison Bench said he wishes to see a president who has a background in academia and who will support research programs at USC.

During the town halls, individuals made calls for candidates to support multiple groups on campus, such as faculty researchers, the Black community, people with disabilities, the LGBTQIA+ community and more.

One student said the Black community was "woefully unrepresented in this selection process" and wished for the search committee to meet with the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs Leadership Council. Of the 22 members of the committee, five of them are Black, with two of them being advisory members, according to the committee's website.

Funk and Associates, the consulting firm assisting USC in its presidential search, has a 600-person mailing list that receives letters regarding the searches the firm assists in, and 25% to 30% of the recipients are people of color and half are women, according to Bill Funk, a representative of the firm.

"I know in talking to the board members and to the search committee, there is a sincere interest on the part of the University of South Carolina to attract and consider underrepresented candidates and women," Funk said. 

Outside of issues regarding the search, Speaker of the Student Senate Morgiana McDevitt and two other students had an issue with the town halls being held on the first day of classes. 

"It is a crazy time for students, even getting to campus, students haven't been here in a year and a half. So just making it physically here definitely is a challenge for some, this first week or two at campus," McDevitt said. 

The trust between the USC community and the search process must be rebuilt because of the previous, problematic process that resulted in Caslen's presidency, Stewart said.

"There has to be sufficient transparency so that we as a body, student and faculty understand what's going on," Stewart said. "Because the occurrences of the last event were very concerning and unclear."

The next town hall will be held virtually over Microsoft Teams at 10 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 20.

Correction (Aug. 20, 2021, at 5:33 p.m.): The student body secretary of sustainability was misnamed as Mckenzie Coon, the former secretary. The name was corrected to Harrison Bench, the current secretary.


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