Univ. of South Carolina leaders take blame for donor’s ire
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — University of South Carolina leaders say it’s their fault for not reaching out to Darla Moore after her 89-year-old mother died on April 1, leading the school’s biggest donor to write off the university.
“I deeply regret the way our response was delayed, and I take full responsibility as a president of the university,” President Bob Caslen said Thursday.
Darla Moore has donated more than $75 million to the school, and its business school is named after her.
Caslen told The Post and Courier that he sent Moore a handwritten note, and USC board Chairman Dorn Smith said he has tried to call Moore. Neither have received a reply.
Moore’s silence is a sign of the fractured relationship between the state’s largest university and its biggest benefactor. Two years ago, she asked trustees to restart the search rather than hire Caslen, a retired general and U.S. Military Academy superintendent.
Caslen said Moore has not spoken with him since his arrival in 2019. She also has had little interaction with trustees.
USC leaders knew of Lorraine Moore’s passing on April 2, the day after she died. Smith told The Post and Courier that he saw her obituary in a Florence newspaper while flying with Caslen to the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four in San Antonio. But they didn’t immediately act.
Caslen waited until after Easter Sunday to tell his staff to send condolence letters to Moore on April 5, two days after Lorraine Moore’s funeral.
By then, Moore said her family had received “deep expressions of appreciation and recognition from the faculty and leadership of Clemson University.” The Lake City financier donated $10 million to Clemson for its school of education, which is named after her father.
“What did she receive from the University of South Carolina, the recipient of the most exceptional generosity in the history of this state by virtue of her life? NOTHING,” Moore wrote in her letter.
“There is not a university in the country that would exhibit this degree of thoughtless, dismissive and graceless ignorance of the death of a parent of their largest donor,” Moore wrote. “I continue to be embarrassed and humiliated by my association with you and all you so disgracefully and incompetently display to the community you are charged to serve and to whom you look for support.”
She ended the letter saying, “The deepest regret of my life is the effort and resources I have expended on your behalf.”
Moore has repeatedly declined comment to reporters.
“We deeply regret we did not do it sooner,” Caslen said. “I’ll do whatever I need to build a relationship. We as a university really need to repair this relationship.”
Smith said he regrets what happened, which he called a “perfect storm” because Lorraine Moore’s passing was not widely known, and he and Caslen went straight to the game.
“From that standpoint, it’s just unfortunate and it’s something that happens,” Smith said. “Miss (Darla) Moore is a wonderful lady. She is a class act. We certainly have every intention of doing everything at the university to repair the relationship.”
Smith led trustees in a moment of silence in Lorraine Moore’s memory during an April 9 meeting, saying at the end that Darla Moore was “in our thoughts and our prayers.”
In 2010, USC canceled bidding for architects to design a new business school building so the university could hire Moore’s choice. A USC foundation paid for the design of the $106.5 million structure.
A year later, newly elected Gov. Nikki Haley removed Moore as a trustee, drawing protests.
The day before USC trustees hired Caslen in 2019, Moore asked the school to restart the presidential search. She was upset at how the search was conducted, after trustees were lobbied by Gov. Henry McMaster to hire Caslen.