Moore asks USC trustees to halt university president vote

July 19, 2019 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A billionaire businesswoman and the biggest donor to the University of South Carolina is asking trustees to cancel a planned vote Friday for a new president.

Just hours before the board was set to meet, Darla Moore sent a note to Board of Trustees Chairman John von Lehe saying voting Friday instead of restarting the search would do “irremediable damage” to the university.

“I’m making a final appeal to the Board to reject the rank political influence in selecting the next President,” Moore wrote in her email.

The email came about 12 hours before trustees were schedule to meet and likely vote on whether to hire a retired Army general with ties to President Donald Trump as the university’s new president.


Protests by students and complaints from professors led trustees to cast no vote on Army general and West Point Superintendent Robert Caslen back in April and instead unanimously agree to reopen the search.

But with little explanation, Caslen’s candidacy resurfaced earlier this month as trustee Charlie Williams said Gov. Henry McMaster started calling trustees and urging them to call a special meeting and vote for Caslen.


McMaster’s spokesman said the governor thinks Caslen is supremely qualified , although McMaster has not gone into detail about why he suddenly started pushing his candidacy two months after trustees appeared ready to start the search over again for the replacement for President Harris Pastides, a well-respected leader retiring at the end of July after a decade as the school’s leader.

McMaster is an ex officio trustee, but he told reporters Thursday that he will stick to tradition and not attend Friday’s meeting. He said he is confident Caslen will be approved.

“His character, his record of achievement, his understanding of young people and his understanding of how an academic institution works, which was on vivid display in West Point gives the people of South Carolina for whom that university exists a rare opportunity to select someone the like of which we have not quite seen before,” McMaster told reporters after a round table discussion on education initiatives with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

In her letter, Moore reminded von Lehe she is the school’s biggest donor. The university named its business school for her after a $45 million gift in 2004. She also has been mixed up with politics. Then Gov. Nikki Haley removed Moore as a University of South Carolina trustee shortly after taking office in 2011.

Moore asked trustees in her letter to “reject the rank political influence” in the current presidential search, saying the surest way for the school to lose its integrity is to allow its leadership to be influenced by politics.

“Not one constituency of the university is in favor of the current process including the donors who are the lifeblood of the university’s future,” Moore wrote. “The process should be started over to find a qualified candidate without the current controversy. To do otherwise is to do irremediable damage to the university.”

The Faculty Senate passed a no-confidence vote in Caslen, saying he has no doctoral degree and little research university experience.

Students felt like Caslen did poorly answering questions and had little knowledge of the University of South Carolina when he visited campus this spring. They were especially upset after he said binge drinking was a big factor in sexual assaults.

The students protested the April meeting where trustees did not vote on a president and plan to protest the meeting at 10 a.m. Friday.

Republican South Carolina lawmakers have suggested they think Caslen can bring some conservative fiscal discipline to a university on a building boom and with some debt and perhaps help bring some federal programs to the school. Trump interviewed Caslen to be his national security adviser in 2017.

The Republicans also aren’t happy about protests from students and professors. Several have called them “snowflakes” on social media and asked trustees not to pay them any attention.

The leader of the Faculty Senate and the Student Government president will speak to trustees before they go behind closed doors to discuss choosing a new president, according to the agenda.

The vote will take place in public, but Williams said he plans to ask his fellow trustees to carry out all discussions in public to try to prevent any additional damage from a divisive search for a new leader.