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Board refuses Univ of South Carolina president’s resignation

May 11, 2021 GMT

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Trustees at the University of South Carolina have refused to accept the resignation of the school’s embattled president following a commencement address marred by allegations of plagiarism and misidentification of the school itself.

Bob Caslen submitted his verbal resignation offer last weekend to the board, but it did not accept it, according to university spokesman Jeff Stensland.

“If the Board feels that I cannot provide leadership for the institution, I have offered my resignation,” Caslen said in a statement provided to The Post and Courier, which first reported about his resignation offer.

Caslen acknowledged 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, in delivering an address to graduates Friday. He called it an oversight.

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He also referred to the school as the “University of California” during an address.

The kerfuffle came up on the state Senate floor on Tuesday. Sen. Dick Harpootlian — whose district includes the university — said he was “embarrassed” by Caslen’s remarks.

“Maybe he was having a bad day,” the Columbia Democrat said. “We all make mistakes, but all don’t give commencement speeches. It was clear he never read it before that day.”

Caslen’s rise to the presidency had met with criticism. Student and faculty leaders had opposed the retired general and U.S. Military Academy superintendent, arguing he lacked qualifications, such as a doctoral degree or university research experience, and knew little about the school.

The faculty Senate unanimously approved a no confidence vote.

Caslen’s supporters touted his 43 years in the military and five years as superintendent of West Point. He had the support of Gov. Henry McMaster and Republican lawmakers who suggested he could bring federal programs to the school and a share of federal money.

McMaster, an ex officio board member, also called trustees, urging them to convene a special meeting to vote on Caslen.

Donors, including Moore, feared that might amount to undue political influence that could threaten the university’s accreditation. McMaster dismissed those ideas, with a spokesman calling the specter of any undue influence “preposterous.”

In 2019, trustees voted 11-8 to hire Caslen, in stark contrast to his predecessors’ unanimous approvals.

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In office, Caslen’s tenure has included other bumps. Last month, he said he took responsibility for the university’s failure to reach out to supporter Darla Moore after her mother’s death, leading the school’s biggest donor to write off the university.

Moore, who has donated in excess of $75 million to the school — and for whom the school of business is named — had asked trustees in 2019 to restart its presidential search rather than hire Caslen.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP.