National professors group asks USC to reopen presidential search

USC students protest presidential finalist Robert L. Caslen

About 75 USC students protested presidential finalist Robert L. Caslen at midday Friday, April 26. The USC board of trustees was considering four finalists Friday.
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About 75 USC students protested presidential finalist Robert L. Caslen at midday Friday, April 26. The USC board of trustees was considering four finalists Friday.

One of the nation’s leading organizations representing college professors has called on the University of South Carolina to re-open its search for a new president.

In a letter sent Tuesday afternoon, American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Associate Secretary Hans-Joerg Tiede urged USC’s board of trustees to listen to its faculty senate, which unanimously passed a vote of “no confidence” in a front-runner for the college’s presidency.

“We join the faculty senate in urging the board of trustees ‘to cancel the current presidential search and begin an open and legitimate search process as described in its bylaws and as recommended by the American Association of University Professors,’” AAUP Associate Secretary Hans-Joerg Tiede wrote to the chair of USC’s board of trustees and President Harris Pastides.

The concerns stem from reports S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster successfully pressured the USC board of trustees into calling for a vote on the presidential candidacy of former U.S. Military Academy at West Point Superintendent Robert L Caslen. In April, Caslen was originally considered alongside three other finalists, but the board reopened the search after the board was not able to come to a unanimous decision on one candidate, according to a previous article from The State.

McMaster had convinced the board to schedule a meeting last Friday to vote on Caslen, but the meeting was delayed until this Friday, July 19.

The letter cited a similar case at the University of Iowa, where the school was officially sanctioned for ignoring the wishes of its faculty and student governments in selecting a president. While an AAUP official had previously told The State that USC’s presidential search could draw scrutiny, this appears to be the group’s first formal action regarding USC’s search.

“The board’s evaluation resulted in a decision last April not to appoint any of the four finalists and instead to reopen the search,” Tiede wrote. “For the board to change course at this time and appoint General Caslen suggests that the faculty’s participation in the search process was merely for appearance’s sake and calls into question whether the search itself was conducted in good faith.”

As of Tuesday, this is the second major academic group to make good on its threats to initiate formal action against USC for its presidential search process. USC’s accrediting body, The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, formally asked USC to explain possible “undue influence” in its presidential search process.

The letter also addressed a story from the Post and Courier of Charleston saying members of the board of trustees were considering a possible vote on another candidate whom was not listed as a finalist back in April. As of Monday, several board members told The State a vote on a “stealth” candidate was unlikely.

“I do not expect that,” USC board of Trustees Chair John Von Lehe said regarding a potential vote on a new candidate Friday. “If that were to happen it would be a surprise to me.”

Charles Williams, who has opposed Caslen’s possible presidency and McMaster’s involvement, said he does not expect a “stealth” candidate and would oppose one if he or she were presented.

“We want to follow the process,” Williams said.