USC students protest presidential finalist Robert L. Caslen
Of four university presidential finalists, students and faculty identified one they didn’t want to work with.
He was the board’s presidential front-runner, and he had the least amount of teaching experience. He wasn’t primarily an academic. The faculty senate threatened a vote of “no confidence” in the front-runner, should he be named president. A survey of 442 faculty showed only 3 percent found the front-runner to be qualified, while all other candidates received 91 percent approval or higher. The board contradicted its own hiring criteria by allowing the front-runner to become a finalist without possessing a doctorate or the highest degree in his field.
Although this may sound like the University of South Carolina’s presidential search, it is not. Rather, the controversy surrounded the University of Iowa in 2015, a story that ended with a black mark on the school’s academic reputation.
After the University of Iowa named business consultant Bruce Harreld president in 2015, faculty and student governments rebelled, casting a vote of no confidence and calling on board of trustee members to resign. The American Association of University Professors (AAUP), which prioritizes faculty having a say in university governance, officially sanctioned the University of Iowa, according to documents obtained by The State.
“Faculty...should play a significant role in the search for a university president,” said Greg Scholtz, the director of the academic freedom, tenure, and governance department of the AAUP.
In June, the University of Iowa extended Harreld’s contract but did not increase his pay, according to an article from the Iowa City Press-Citizen.
The similarities between USC’s presidential search and the University of Iowa’s are uncanny, down to both using the same search firm, Parker Executive Search, and both raising concerns about diversity. One difference is that USC’s Faculty Senate has already cast a unanimous vote of no confidence in presidential finalist Robert L Caslen, who was the former superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Caslen has faced protests from faculty and many students because they believe he has no record on environmental sustainability, they oppose his role in the war in Iraq, and he doesn’t hold a doctorate.
In April, USC’s board seemed prepared to select a president among a pool of four finalists. However, the board was not unanimously behind a single candidate so it reopened the search and named USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly interim president, according to a previous article from The State.
But Gov. Henry McMasterm, who backs Caslen’s candidacy, has forced a meeting of the Board of Trustees for Friday to vote on the president.
“Why would anyone... the governor or the administration...want to have a president that the faculty have voted, before he even started, that they have no confidence in him?” said Scholtz. “Do they want him to fail?”
Caslen’s supporters admire his 43-year career in the U.S. Army, his history of raising money and his popularity at West Point, where cadets nicknamed him “Supe Daddy.”
Sanctions are a public rebuke of the school, and while they do not directly hurt the school’s finances or accreditation, it can affect the school’s ability to hire and retain top academic officials, Scholtz said.
“For an institution that is struggling to compete with other elite institutions, (USC) is going to have a problem with censure or sanction,” Scholtz said. “When you’re in stiff competition, everything matters.”
That Gov. Henry McMaster involved himself in the search process just makes things more complicated. Asked whether USC could face a similar sanction as University of Iowa, Scholtz said he wasn’t sure.
“The whole notion of a sanction is the institution has failed,” Scholtz said. “But has (USC) failed? I don’t know.”