McMaster: Idea of impropriety in leader search preposterous

July 16, 2019 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — It’s preposterous to suggest Gov. Henry McMaster did anything improper during the search for a new University of South Carolina president, a spokesman for McMaster said Tuesday.

University trustee Charlie Williams said last week that McMaster was pressuring board members to hire retired Army three-star general and West Point Superintendent Robert Caslen as president.

As governor, McMaster is an ex officio trustee and in that role he contacted trustees, spokesman Brian Symmes said in a statement. The governor said he thinks a permanent president should be chosen as soon as possible, Symmes said. Current President Harris Pastides is set to retire at the end of the month.


“To suggest that the governor, who by law is a member of the board of trustees, did anything improper is preposterous. 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,” Symmes said.

The board considered Caslen among four finalists in April, then voted to continue the search after more than three-quarters of professors who commented on a campus visit rejected him, many saying he wasn’t qualified because he had no doctoral degree or research university experience.

Students also protested the April meeting, angry over comments Caslen made while in Columbia that binge drinking was a big factor in sexual assaults.

Trustees originally planned to meet last Friday, but a judge ruled the board didn’t follow state law requiring trustees be notified five days before any meeting.

Williams said he has been told trustees will meet this Friday to consider Caslen, but the university hasn’t publicly announced the meeting.

At least one trustee who said we would have voted for Caslen in April said he couldn’t cast that vote now, but not because his opinion of Caslen has changed.

“My reticence now stems from the multiple risks of harm the University is now confronted with. Alumni objections, accreditation risks, donor reaction, faculty opposition, a divided student body and athletic concerns form the basis of my judgment,” trustee Chuck Allen said in a statement to news outlets.

Williams suggested last week that McMaster tried to hold a hasty vote during summer break because students weren’t around and his political pressure could threaten the university’s accreditation.

The statement by McMaster’s spokesman was the governor’s first comment in the week since Williams first told reporters the presidential search might be reopened.

Caslen hasn’t commented since the April meeting.