COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC/WIS/AP) - University of South Carolina trustees voted Friday afternoon to hire retired Army General and West Point Superintendent Robert Caslen as its new president.
In a series of posts on Twitter, Caslen expressed appreciation for the vote that would make him the university’s 29th president. He also acknowledged the concerns expressed at Friday’s meeting.
“I am honored to be chosen to lead this great institution,” he wrote. “I fully recognize the challenges the Board addressed to get to this point, and I am grateful for their support and confidence. I will work tirelessly to listen to all of our students, faculty, staff, Board members, and all our constituents to understand their concerns and issues, and I will actively seek their advice.”
"From talking with many people, it is clear the University of South Carolina is on track to be the preeminent institution of higher education in America today, and I will work to move this university and system in that direction, ensuring South Carolina continues to deliver a world-class education to students while making the state a better place to live," Caslon said. "I am eager to start meeting with students, faculty and staff, and my goal is to work collaboratively with our entire university and system community to address challenges, to build confidence, respect and trust, and to create new opportunities."
He thanked those who supported his candidacy and promised to lead the Institution “with the highest integrity, respect and character.”
Prior to the vote, several board members raised concerns about the process.
Board member Charles Williams spoke before the votes calling the situation “a hell of a mess” and worried the rushed vote could put the university’s accreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in peril. By calling for an up-or-down vote on Caslen alone, the governor eliminated the competition, Williams said.
At 1:26 p.m., board members voted on a motion to indefinitely postpone a vote on Caslen. That motion failed. The board immediately voted on whether to hire him. That vote passed with 11 yes votes, eight no votes and one vote of present.
Dozens of students and faculty members who sat quietly outside the board room during the meeting began chanting “Shame” when they learned of the results.
Gov. Henry McMaster praised the vote Friday afternoon in a statement.
"The selection of General Robert Caslen as the next president of the University of South Carolina is a positive and transformative step forward for the future of the university and the state,” McMaster said. “I am confident that every student, alumnus, faculty member and citizen of this state will benefit from his superior leadership, vision and direction, which he has demonstrated throughout his remarkable career.”
The decision to vote divided the campus, coming three months after trustees didn’t vote on any finalists and agreed to restart the search. Professors said Caslen wasn’t qualified because he didn’t have a doctoral degree. Students say he didn’t know enough about the school. Two of the university’s biggest donors said the search was too political.
Before going into closed door session, Board of Trustees Chairman John von Lehe said trustees have heard the concerns but have to do what is best for the university. He said Caslen, who also was West Point superintendent, has another offer so the school must act now. He didn’t give specifics.
Board members emerged from executive session shortly after 12:30 p.m.
The purpose of the meeting was to vote on a new president, but that plan came amid concerns that the selection process should begin again. One of the voices urging a delay in the vote came Thursday from billionaire businesswoman Darla Moore.
Moore sent a note late Thursday to Board of Trustees Chairman John von Lehe that voting instead of restarting the search would do "irremediable damage" to the university. Moore's note reminded von Lehe she is the university's biggest donor. She gave $45 million in 2004 for the business school named after her.
Trustees were set to pick a president among four finalists in April, but instead voted to continue the search after complaints from students and professors that front-runner Caslen wasn’t qualified.
Protesters thought that meant the university would look for new finalists. But earlier this month, trustee Charlie Williams said Gov. Henry McMaster started pushing them to choose Caslen. The objections to Caslen got louder this month.
Williams said he planned to ask trustees to hold the debate in public.
Gov. Henry McMaster said Thursday it is time for the university to move forward.
“President Pastides has done an excellent job for ten years, but he gave his announcement almost a year ago, today, almost a year ago that he was leaving,” McMaster said. “We have vacancies in the top echelons of the university – the financial officers, the provost. No one is going to come and apply for those jobs until we get a president.”
The governor says the process, so far, has cost about $137,000.
McMaster also said he was confident Caslen would win the vote.
“As chairman of the board, according to the law, as chairman – ex officio of the board – it has been my honor to talk to many of the trustees,” McMaster said. “I think I’ve spoken to all of them to give them my opinion. Gen. Caslen is precisely what we need at the University of South Carolina, right now. He is a nationally recognized leader. I think he’s going to win the vote.”