Education

USC named four finalists for president. Here’s what we know about them

The University of South Carolina has announced four finalists in the school’s search for a new president.

The picks include:

  • John S. Applegate, professor and executive vice president for university academic affairs in the Indiana University System;
  • Robert L. Caslen Jr., senior counsel to the president and interim chief financial officer at the University of Central Florida;
  • William F. Tate, dean of the graduate school and vice provost for graduate education at Washington University in St. Louis; and
  • Joseph T. Walsh Jr., vice president for research at Northwestern University in Chicago.

Caslen is a former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Asked what the most important factor was when selecting the finalists, Hugh Mobley, the head of the search committee and vice chair of the Board of Trustees, said: “Number one we looked for a significant amount of leadership ability. We know things are changing in higher education, and we needed to have someone that can anticipate and guide us through those changes while keeping our quality where it needs to be.”

The winner will replace USC’s current president, Harris Pastides, 65, who has stood at the helm for the last decade. During Pastides’ time, he oversaw more than $1 billion in new construction, a 25 percent increase in system-wide enrollment, two NCAA baseball national championships and a NCAA women’s basketball championship.

More than 80 people either applied to be USC’s next president or were recommended, Mobley said. Of those, 11 met with the Board of Trustees in Atlanta last week for in-person meetings, he said. USC’s Board of Trustees could vote on the candidate as soon as soon as its April 26 meeting, Mobley said.

Pastides announced his retirement on Oct. 3, 2018, and the Board of Trustees began looking for a replacement shortly after that by forming a committee and hiring a search firm. Until now, USC has kept silent about any potential candidates.

As Pastides, university officials and student groups have emphasized the importance of racial and social diversity, the finalists — three white men and an African American man — were a letdown to some.

“I’m disappointed that there is not a single woman on this list and only one (person of color),” Amanda Belue, a USC employee who works at the McKissick Museum, tweeted Wednesday morning. “For a university focused on the future this selection is disappointing.”

The four candidates will be on USC’s campus at the program room in the Ernest F. Hollings Library to talk to students, faculty and members of the public from April 22-25. On each of those days, students can talk to the candidates between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. Members of the general public can speak to them from between 3:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The afternoon session will also be live-streamed, according to USC’s website.

Here is a deeper look at the four finalists:

Applegate

Applegate graduated Harvard Law School in 1981 Magna Cum Laude and has spent the lion’s share of his career on a college campus.

After working for three years as an associate attorney for high-powered Washington, D.C., law firm Covington & Burling, he taught law at Vanderbilt University for a semester and at the University of Cincinnati for a year before heading to Indiana University, where he has been ever since, according to his online biography.

While there, he considers his biggest accomplishments to be reorganizing Indiana University’s regional campuses and growing its online education program.

“We have an approach to online education that emphasizes online education being integral to the university, so it’s not a separate program,” Applegate said.

He teaches and researches environmental law and environmental regulations, according to his online bio.

“USC is a terrific university and it’s got a lot of opportunities and upsides,” Applegate said. “It looks like an exciting place to be.”

Caslen

Caslen was the superintendent at West Point from 2013 to 2018 and held various military positions before that including commanding troops in Northern Iraq during the Obama administration.

Caslen said he was “thrilled and honored” to have been named a finalist for USC’s presidency, and found out about the job when the company USC hired to help conduct the search, Parker Executive Search, called him.

“The thing I missed the most were these inspiring young men and women,” Caslen said, who had retired from the Army and from West Point last summer.

Aside from his military service, Caslen said one of his biggest accomplishments as a university president was reviving West Point’s athletic program.

“Whoever our rivals are, we’re going to figure out how to beat our rivals,” Caslen said. That includes Clemson, who is “target No. 1 right now.”

Army’s football team broke a 14-game losing streak to rival Navy in 2016, during Caslen’s administration. The Black Knights have now won three straight games in the series.

During Caslen’s time at West Point, he and those under his command drew criticism ranging from prayer after a football game to out of control parties, according to media reports.

In 2004, when Caslen was the commandant of cadets at West Point, he violated ethics rules by using his position as an officer to help a private, Christian organization produce a fundraising video, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Defense Office of Inspector General.

“I see a brother in the lord from these flag fellowship groups, and I immediately feel like I’m being held accountable,” he said in the video. “Because we’re the aroma of Jesus Christ.”

The problem with Caslen’s endorsement was that he was wearing his uniform, making it look like the military was endorsing the private organization, Caslen said. When inspectors confronted him about the video he apologized. He told The State he had learned from the experience.

In 2014, he took full blame for an incident when Army football players and recruits were taken on a chartered bus to a bowling alley, where recruits reported underage binge drinking and cheerleaders making out, according to a report obtained by The Gazette, a newspaper based in Colorado Springs.

Tate

Like USC’s current president, Tate has a background in medicine, more specifically epidemiology, which is the study of how diseases spread.

When he pursued that master’s degree, he already had three degrees and a fellowship in topics ranging from philosophy, social policy to teaching, according to his online biography.

Most of his career has been spent in colleges, but he also has K-12 experience. From 1999-2001, he was an assistant superintendent at the Dallas Independent School District, which has more than 160,000 students, according to his biography.

The State has reached out to Tate for comment.

Walsh

Should USC choose to make Walsh its next president, it would indicate USC wants to double-down Pastides’ progress toward making the school a research powerhouse.

His credentials: engineering degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard, multiple patents, and running Northwestern University’s research department for the last decade.

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