USC students, faculty protest board of trustee vote on potential Caslen presidency

Roughly 80 demonstrators from the University of South Carolina gathered Friday to protest Gov. Henry McMaster’s involvement in the school’s presidential search.

After meeting outside Russell House Student Center, students and faculty walked to the Pastides Alumni Center holding signs that said “Principle, People, Prosperity, Progress.” The protesters gathered before Friday’s scheduled board of trustees vote on whether former U.S. Military Academy at West Point Superintendent Robert Caslen should be USC’s next president.

“I am really, really, fundamentally unhappy with the process,” said Associate English Professor Anne Gulick, who sat outside the board room with a sign reading “WHAT’S THE RUSH?”

“There is no candidate who is so good he or she would be worth sacrificing the process for,” Gulick said.

The vote was originally scheduled for last Friday, but was postponed because of a court order, according to previous articles from The State.

Caslen was one of the four finalists USC announced in April. Amid protests, the board did not vote to accept any of the four candidates and reopened the search, naming USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly interim president. Earlier this month, McMaster began calling trustees and asking them to hold a public vote on Caslen. Trustee Charles Williams said McMaster told him that if the board didn’t call a vote, than McMaster would.

Compared to the protests in April, USC increased security precautions, posting more guards and searching bags. Friday’s protest also included more faculty and alumni; whereas the April protests were predominantly students.

“This time we have faculty and alumni in the room and I think that’s good that we have more voices involved,” said Lauryn Workman, a USC student who helped organize the protest.

While students protested outside, USC Student Body President Luke Rankin and Faculty Senate Chair Marco Valtorta delivered a message to the board of trustees.

“We haven’t always agreed, but we’ve been able to meet challenges together in good faith,” Valtorta read from preapred statements. “I’m very concerned this time it may be coming to an end.”

“We are concerned the value of a degree from our university may be put in jeopardy,” Valtorta said.

Students also feel they have not been heard.

“The bottom line is that students feel they have been left out of this process,” Rankin said.

There was a lone counterprotester.

Ray Moore stood outside the board room holding a sign that read, “restore order, Elect Robert Caslen Lt. Gen (Ret.) President of USC. Thank you Gov. McMaster.”

Moore, who served 30 years in the Army Reserve said he has not met Caslen, but supports him because of how strong his reputation is among those in the Army.

“The Army doesn’t pick ordinary generals to be superintendent of West Point,” Moore said. “They pick the best.”

For his part, McMaster has said that he was acting only in his legal role as the ex officio chairman of the board.

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

While the original protests in April included chanting outside the board office, this protest was a quiet sit-in.

Students aren’t the only ones protesting. USC’s Faculty Senate passed a unanimous vote of no confidence in Caslen. Earlier this week, faculty formed a new group dubbed Gamecocks4Integrity, which advocates for more transparency and less political influence in the presidential search. The group’s Wednesday rally drew a crowd of more than 100 people, according to a previous article from The State.

Students expressed concern the governor’s involvement could threaten USC’s accreditation, which allows the school to receive federal money and lends credence to its degrees. USC’s accrediting agency, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS) issued the school a formal letter earlier this week asking whether board members were subjected to “undue influence” by McMaster, something that runs afoul SACS’ rules.