Education

USC faculty rallies against Gov. McMaster’s involvement in presidential search

Students, faculty and alumni rally against USC presidential selection process

The Gamecock community gathered at the Russell House patio to voice concerns regarding Friday's vote on university presidential candidate Robert Caslen. Speakers asked the board to cancel the vote and expressed worry over loss of accreditation.
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The Gamecock community gathered at the Russell House patio to voice concerns regarding Friday's vote on university presidential candidate Robert Caslen. Speakers asked the board to cancel the vote and expressed worry over loss of accreditation.

Teachers at the University of South Carolina held a rally Wednesday against Gov. Henry McMaster’s involvement in the school’s search for a new president.

The main message of the rally, which was attended by a mix of more than 100 faculty, students, alumni and more, was that McMaster should stop pressuring USC’s board of trustees to cast a vote on a presidential candidate and that the board should cancel Friday’s vote.

“Today is the first day of the Gamecocks4Integrity movement,” said Bethany Bell, an associate professor in the College of Social Work who helped organize the event at the Russell House on campus. “This is a movement for everyone who is concerned about what is happening on our board of trustees.”

The newfound organization’s motto — “Principle, People, Prosperity, Progress” — was printed on signs held by those participating in the rally. The rally included several high-profile alumni including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and former S.C. state representative and CNN commentator Bakari Sellers.

“I’m so encouraged and excited by the students and faculty... You guys have stood up,” Benjamin said. “People will believe that it will be over this Friday. It will not.”

Though some at the rally opposed the candidacy of former U.S. Military Academy at West Point Superintendent Robert Caslen, the rally was not about Caslen, but rather McMaster’s involvement.

“It’s basically an issue about the turn the presidential search has taken,” said Clare Morris, an adjunct professor in USC’s journalism school who helped organize the meeting. “It’s an issue the process has not been adhered to.”

McMaster last week pressured the board to schedule a vote on Caslen for last Friday, July 12, but a court challenge delayed the vote to this Friday, July 19. Caslen was one of four finalists picked by the board earlier this year, but the search was reopened after board members failed to reach a consensus on any of the four.

“I’ve been around this place for 56 years and I have never seen anything like this from the faculty,” said alumnus and longtime S.C. watchdog John Crangle, who attended the rally. “It’s pretty obvious the board of trustees needs to be restructured.”

McMaster argued he was only exercising his rights as the ex officio chair of the board to voice his opinion on his preferred candidate.

“To suggest that the governor, who by law is a member of the board of trustees, did anything improper is preposterous,” said McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes in a statement issued Tuesday. “Gov. McMaster has made no secret about the fact, that as a member of the board, he believes Gen. Robert Caslen is supremely qualified and is perfectly suited to address the challenges ahead for the University of South Carolina.”

One of the faculty’s chief concerns about McMaster’s involvement is the involvement of USC’s accrediting body, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, according to a previous article from The State. The association has sent a letter to the university with questions about potential “undue influence” by McMaster.

Accreditation allows USC to access federal funds and boosts the profile of its degrees.

Crangle said McMaster’s involvement is most likely in line with laws and standards.

“Unless (the governor) is trying to coerce them or offer them positions, he’s not violating the (accrediting) standards,” said Crangle, who has participated in several college accreditation processes.

But the possibility that accreditation could be threatened was enough of a reason for some to join the rally.

“I was shocked to hear that was even a possibility,” said Jennifer Mandelbaum, the former president of USC’s Graduate Student Association, who attended the event.

Students said the timing of the decision was done to elude protests and student participation.

“We are concerned that this search is being done when the students are not here,” said Lyric Swinton, who helped organize the original protests against Caslen’s presidency in April. “We want the governor to know that despite timing, you will not act behind our back.”

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