Education

USC paid firm $137,000 to find its next president — then rejected all finalists

USC students protest presidential finalists. Here’s why

Some students at the University of South Carolina are criticizing the school for what they see as a lack of diversity in presidential finalists, especially because the finalists are all men.
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Some students at the University of South Carolina are criticizing the school for what they see as a lack of diversity in presidential finalists, especially because the finalists are all men.

After seven months and more than $130,000, the University of South Carolina is back where it started — trying to finding its next president.

The university’s educational foundation has paid Atlanta-based firm Parker Executive Search $137,060 since October — when President Harris Pastides announced his retirement — according to Jason Caskey, USC Foundations president. But the search for a presidential replacement has been fruitless so far.

The board met Thursday, but did not deliver any updates on the presidential search, USC spokesman Jeff Stensland said.

USC’s Educational Foundation, which paid for the search, funds research, scholarships, salary supplements and assists with fundraising, according to its most recent financial statement. As of June 2018, the Educational Foundation had nearly $560 million in total assets, the financial statement shows.

The money for the presidential search came from the foundation’s general revenue fund, Caskey said, and no donor money was used.

In late April, USC appeared poised to select the school’s next president. The university announced four presidential finalists and hosted public forums for each one. The university’s board of trustees conducted interviews with all finalists:

  • 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, and a former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
  • 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.

But when the finalists were presented to the public, some students and teachers criticized the board for not including women finalists, while others criticized the board for naming Caslen as finalist.

After days of criticism and protest, the board of trustees announced it would name USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly interim president and reset the presidential search. About 100 students protesting outside the 9-hour meeting cheered when the board announced its decision.

However, one board of trustees member has said the protests did not influence his decision to restart the search process.

Although the first attempt at finding a replacement for Pastides was unsuccessful, Caskey said USC’s contract with Parker Executive Search guarantees the process will continue until someone is hired or until the firm and the university “’are both satisfied that every reasonable effort has been made.’”

President Pastides’ last day is July 31.

Lucas Daprile has been covering the University of South Carolina and higher education since March 2018. Before working for The State, he graduated from Ohio University and worked as an investigative reporter at TCPalm in Stuart, FL. There, where he won multiple awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for his political and environmental coverage.


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