Front-runner for S. Carolina university president drops out

December 6, 2021 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The front-runner in the search for the University of South Carolina’s next president has decided not to pursue the job.

Mung Chiang, an electrical engineer who serves as the dean of the engineering college at Purdue University, said in a statement through the University of South Carolina that he was focusing on his family instead.

“With various family considerations in mind and after much discussion in the family, we have decided that the best course of action at this time is for me to focus on family and on current responsibilities at my home institution and not on other leadership opportunities,” Chiang said.

The Post and Courier first reported on Saturday that Chiang was considered the top pick by the search committee to lead the public university with eight campuses and 50,000 students. The board of trustees was scheduled to invite Chiang to visit campus this week to meet with faculty, staff and students.

Chiang, 44, received his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. from Stanford and later became one of Princeton’s youngest endowed chair professors, according to a biography on Purdue’s website.

An immigrant from China, Chiang has also served as a science and technology adviser to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. His research focuses on the internet, as well as wireless networks, broadband access networks, content distribution networks, network economics, and online social networks.

“Mung Chiang is one of the nation’s most respected minds and sought after academic leaders,” said Purdue spokesman Tim Doty in a statement. “We are deeply grateful that he and his family, not for the first time, have chosen to decline a prestigious presidency and remain with us.”

The search to replace former University of South Carolina president Bob Caslen, who resigned in May following accusations of plagiarism, has faced some setbacks in recent months.

Prominent donor and graduate Lou Kennedy, now the CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, resigned from the search committee last month and cut back on donations, citing concerns that the selection process would be a repeat of 2019′s controversial search.

That search led to the hiring of Caslen, a retired general and former West Point superintendent. Critics decried Caslen’s hiring as highly politicized, and student and faculty leaders argued he lacked qualifications, such as a doctoral degree or university research experience, and knew little about the school.

Gov. Henry McMaster, an ex officio trustee, stepped in and asked board members to hire Caslen, even as the school’s top two living donors asked for a ‘no’ vote because the process had become too political.

Caslen submitted his resignation less than two years later, after delivering a commencement address marred by the plagiarism accusations and a misidentification of the school itself.

He referred to the school as the “University of California” during his initial remarks to graduates. He later admitted to taking two paragraphs without attribution from a speech by Adm. William McRaven, the Navy SEAL in charge of the mission to take out terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Months later, Caslen told The Post and Courier that taking the job was the biggest regret of his life.

Caslen’s predecessor, Harris Pastides, is now serving as interim president as the search committee continues to seek a replacement.