Last Tuesday, Gov. Henry McMaster forced a vote in favor of University of South Carolina (USC) presidential candidate Gen. Robert L. Caslen on the board of trustees.
Not only is this unethical as he took advantage of the fact that many students and faculty are away on summer vacation and less able to protest, it turned out to be illegal as well since the meeting was to be held last Friday after the board was only informed on the previous Tuesday. That left only a three-day window. State law requires there to be at least five days, so the meeting will now be held today.
This all seemed to start in April when the board of trustees announced four finalists, all male and three of them white. Not only this, but 19 of the board’s 22 members are white men, showing a lack of diversity in the selection process.
In response, USC students wrote an open letter to the board criticizing the lack of diversity. This letter was signed by 125 faculty members and more than 30 student organizations.
“We are not attacking the qualifications of these candidates; we are criticizing the process that led to their selection,” the open letter said, read by Megan Rigabar, a fourth-year global studies and Spanish student at USC.
Shortly after, Caslen held a forum where he made comments about sexual assault putting blame on alcohol, rather than the assaulter: “We want to take out some of the contributing measures towards sexual assault, particularly the alcohol,” Caslen said.
Students didn’t like this, so about 75 of them gathered together to protest on April 26 at the Alumni Center, where the board was to meet to choose a president. Fortunately, the board listened, and decided to reopen the search and found an interim president, Brendan Kelly.
However, if Caslen is elected today, the hiring of Kelly will have been for naught all, and our voices will be disregarded. Caslen has an 82 percent disapproval rating among students and faculty. It’s true that finding the right president is hard because our former one, Harris Pastides, was so amazing. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have a voice and that the board should settle for someone students and faculty don’t like, rather than taking the time to find someone who is -- while probably not as great as Pastides -- better for us and more popular than Caslen. We don’t want someone perfect, just someone right for us.
We students pay thousands of dollars each year to attend our university. We love our school and invest so much of our time and effort there. Without the students, there would be no university. I think that’s what people fail to recognize. Students aren’t deluded or misinformed, but quite the opposite. College students are smart people who care about the issues around them. We’ve made this clear in protesting the process that has led us here.
Not only will choosing Caslen ignore students’ voices, but it will also put the school’s accreditation in jeopardy. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) states that while McMaster is ex officio chairman of the board of trustees, “…the governing board protects the institution from undue influence by external persons or bodies.” The SACS is currently concerned about the hiring process of our president, and if this causes us to lose accreditation, which in turn can make us lose federal and state financial aid or in worse case scenario, force the university to close, I don’t know what I will do.
I love my school. I rely on financial aid to fund my education. This has turned into something much bigger than just an undesirable president.
I hope the board makes the right choice today. It needs to listen to students and faculty or we could lose everything.
(Anna Mock, a rising sophomore at USC, is the news intern for the Chronicle-Independent, Camden, S.C.)