Education

USC faculty rebukes McMaster’s role in search, expresses ‘no confidence’ in Caslen

Mayor Benjamin: Scheduled board meeting ‘not only inappropriate, but unlawful’

Legislators and University of South Carolina representatives held a press conference at the State House 2:00 p.m. Wednesday to criticize the then-scheduled board meeting to vote on the school's new president. Here's what Mayor Benjamin had to say.
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Legislators and University of South Carolina representatives held a press conference at the State House 2:00 p.m. Wednesday to criticize the then-scheduled board meeting to vote on the school's new president. Here's what Mayor Benjamin had to say.

A group representing University of South Carolina faculty unanimously passed a vote of no confidence in presidential candidate Robert Caslen Thursday afternoon.

At the same time, more than three dozen Faculty Senate members voted to criticize Gov. Henry McMaster’s pressure to force a vote on Caslen by the Board of Trustees.

The faculty voted about an hour before Friday’s Board of Trustees meeting was canceled. One board member told The State that the meeting was cancelled after a judge issued a temporary restraining order preventing a vote on the president.

The university’s Faculty Senate erupted in applause when the group passed a motion of no confidence in Caslen, a former superintendent at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The applause roared louder when the body voted to criticize the process of a forced vote for Caslen.

The resolution on McMaster called his actions an “extraordinary step … for a highly controversial candidate that he favors” and said his moves made the search “a partisan conflict, defiant of deliberative process and destructive of trust.”

The resolution also contended that the process could undermine the university’s accreditation and irreparably damage the school’s reputation. The forced vote constitutes an illegal step against the laws of the university and its accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, according to the resolution.

The votes came after an impromptu Thursday meeting called in reaction to McMaster’s actions. The Faculty Senate’s chairman, Marco Valtorta, said he received an explosion of phone calls asking about the vote. At least 10 Faculty Senate members contacted him to throw together the meeting.

More than a dozen professors and other faculty spoke up to voice concerns over “person and procedure,” as one member said.

Caslen was one of four finalists considered for the presidency in April. After all of the finalists visited the campus to meet with students, faculty and others, the Board of Trustees decided to continue the search.

“Of all the candidates, he had done no research on our strategic plan or our mission and he showed no understanding of what is entailed for faculty in our research institution,” said faculty member Bethany Bell. “In our minds, he didn’t have answers that map onto the reality of this university.”

Caslen showed “poor communication,” Bell said.

The resolutions will go to the board of trustees as “advisory opinions,” one senator said.

A vote for Caslen would “set a very very dangerous precedent that in the future any governor will be able to run the university,” said faculty member Brad Collins. “I think that’s what the board of trustees needs to understand ”

The Faculty Senate also brought in perspectives outside its membership.

Carl Wells, president of the Black Faculty and Staff Association, said his group had conducted an online survey that got around 650 responses.

The responses expressed concern about the process, and failure to follow rules and laws, the misuse of power, lack of transparency and “the infusion of unethical political agendas” into the presidential selection process

The resolutions are not binding for the trustees, but as Collins put it, if the board voted in Caslen, “he would be faced with a very, very hostile work environment.”

With that, applause sounded out again.

David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.

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