Amid protests, USC reopens search to replace Pastides, names interim president

After a seven-month search, a week of interviews with four finalists and a day of protests, the USC board of trustees voted Friday to continue searching for a president to succeed Harris Pastides.

The board named Brendan Kelly, the chancellor at USC Upstate, as interim president. He will take on the new role Aug. 1, the day after Pastides retires.

The board met nearly all day Friday to interview and discuss four finalists, who had been identified just a week earlier. The board had been criticized throughout the week because the finalists are all men, and three of them are white.

Tensions reached a boiling point Friday when roughly 100 student activists protested the board, not only for selecting exclusively male finalists, but for finalist Robert Caslen’s comments during a presidential forum that binge drinking contributes to sexual assault.

That pressure seemed to be released, at least temporarily, as student activists celebrated the board’s decision to continue the search.

“I’m so encouraged and so proud of the Carolina community,” said Lauryn Workman, a USC sophomore and one of the protest organizers. “This is what we have been asking for since Monday. We wanted them to acknowledge this was a broken search process and they did.”

Asked if the board deserved credit for the about-face, Workman said, “Yes. I commend them for listening to student voices.”

Megan Rigabar, one of the original authors of a letter complaining about the finalists’ lack of diversity, said she was “ecstatic.” Rigabar read the letter, signed by more than 40 student groups and more than 120 faculty members, during finalists’ meetings at USC.

“I think this is a sign the university is willing to listen to students and consider gender diversity going forward,” Rigabar said. “The way forward is through dialogue and collaboration, and adding more voices to the mix.”

The finalists visited USC this week, and each one met with faculty, students and the public.

As the board met behind closed doors Friday afternoon in the alumni center, the students gathered in the lobby and, at one point, chanted, “We want answers.”

At about 6:30 Friday evening, the board issued a statement saying it had voted to continue the search for a president. The board members left without answering questions, including whether they had rejected all of the finalists and were starting over.

The other finalists were John S. Applegate, the executive vice president for university academic affairs at Indiana University; William F. Tate, dean of the graduate school and vice provost for graduate education at Washington University in St. Louis; and Joseph “Jay” Walsh, vice president for research at Northwestern University in Chicago.

USC’s next president will likely be charged with finding funding to build a new medical school, oversee the public-private partnership to erect the $460-million, 3,750-bed Campus Village project,; and find a way to address underage drinking and student safety in Five Points.

Pastides has led the university since 2008. He guided the school through the Great Recession, increased enrollment and raised more than $1 billion for the school.

Kelly has been chancellor at USC Upstate since March 2017. The school’s website says Kelly initiated a process that resulted in a strategic plan called Up. Together: USC Upstate Strategic Plan 2018-2023.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in public relations and a master’s degree in communication from Eastern Michigan University, and a doctorate in rhetoric and political communication from Wayne State University in Detroit, according to the website. He and his wife, Dr. Tressa Kelly, have three children: Bree, Liam and Kieran.