Court order forces UofSC Board of Trustees to cancel Friday vote on controversial presidential candidate

Court order forces UofSC Board of Trustees to cancel Friday vote on controversial presidential candidate
Lt. Gen. Robert L. Caslen, Jr. (Ret.) (Photo by U.S. Army/Spc. Anna Pol)

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The Board of Trustees at the University of South Carolina will delay a vote on Lt. General Robert Caslen.

A Richland County judge told the trustees to hold off on Friday’s vote for a new president after one of the trustees complained it violated state law.

Charles H. Williams confirmed with WIS he asked for a temporary restraining order because the board was not notified of the special meeting five days ahead of time, as is required by state law. The judge ordered a 10-day injunction, preventing the board of trustees from meeting on Friday.

The vote was initially scheduled after Gov. Henry McMaster requested a vote on Lt. General Caslen (Ret.) from the board. However, McMaster sent a letter to UofSC board chairman John von Lehe requesting Friday’s meeting be rescheduled.

“Although I did not call tomorrow’s meeting, in my capacity as ex officio chairman of the Board of Trustees,” McMaster said in the letter. “I respectfully recommend that you consider rescheduling the meeting for the near term both for the convenience of those involved and to eliminate any unnecessary distractions or concerns regarding the time of the special meeting.”

According to Gov. McMaster’s office the letter was drafted to the board chairman before the injunction was put in place.

Williams said after speaking with many of the trustees, some expressed they felt politically pressured to vote for Caslen as a result of the governor getting involved.

“You know it’s just, he hasn’t met the man, he’s out there twisting arms, interfering with the board and he can’t tell anybody why we need this guy,” Williams said.

The judge scheduled a hearing for July 19, but Williams said it could be a moot point as long as the governor gives the board five days’ notice before requesting another meeting.

“Anytime you put politics in the election of a president of the university of our state, you have this kind of crap,” he said. “There’s no room for politics, you leave politics at the door when you walk in that board room.”

Earlier Thursday, Mayor Steve Benjamin held a press conference with Senator Darrell Jackson and students and faculty members, urging the board to cancel Friday’s meeting and continue the ongoing search for the university’s next president. He referred to McMaster’s actions as “willful ignorance.”

Sen. Jackson said, if the board went forward with the vote, he would request a meeting in front of the Senate Oversight Committee to demand justification from trustees, many of whom are appointed by members of the general assembly.

Williams said he is also concerned the fallout caused by the governor’s actions will cause irreversible damage at the university. The school’s accreditation is up for renewal this year, according to Williams, and any indication of political interference within the board of trustees and its governance of the university could jeopardize its accreditation, he said.


The UofSC faculty senate also met Thursday to discuss the meeting which was set to take place on Friday. Senators voted unanimously on a resolution saying the process was political and Caslen was not right for the job.

“His career trajectory as I read it from that perspective is one of straight combat arms,” said associate professor Jennifer Pournelle. “That’s wonderful. That’s brilliant. That makes him a war hero, but that doesn’t make him a president of a research university. He probably would be excellent as the professor of, say, The Citadel.”

However, faculty members received the news of the cancelled meeting just as they were leaving.

“It seems like we have a moment to breathe and strategize,” said associate professor Bethany Bell.

This sequence of events also happened before a press conference held earlier on Thursday led by Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin. During the press conference, the mayor asked for the meeting to be cancelled once and for all and for the search for the university’s next president to continue.

Caslen was one of four finalists named to possibly replace Dr. Harris Pastides at the University of South Carolina.

At this point, USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly is serving as the university’s interim president.

Check back for more updates.

Copyright 2019 WIS. All rights reserved.