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SC governor calls for vote on new University of South Carolina president

Nominee Robert Caslen, the former superintendent at West Point, caused some controversy with his nomination earlier this year.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Governor Henry McMaster is calling for the University of South Carolina's Board of Trustees to hold an up or down vote this Friday on Robert Caslen's nomination to become the school's new president. 

Charles Williams, a member of the board, confirmed to News19 the board is set to meet Friday July 12. McMaster is the ex-officio chair of the University's board, by virtue of being the governor.

The timing of the meeting and vote is odd, when students and faculty are out of town and school is not in session. McMaster's office has not yet spoken about the decision to hold the vote, or why it's being held this week.

Caslen was one of four final candidates returned from a search committee earlier this year, and a favorite of McMaster. But back in April, some students and faculty protested the idea of him leading the school, and the university backed off the decision. Caslen removed his name from consideration, but later said he'd be open to become president if the board approached him. 

Charles Williams, a board member since 2010, has been speaking out against McMaster calling the meeting, saying that it was ridiculous and irresponsible.

"The governor has no business trying to run the university," he said.

"Politics should never be involved and the governor has a political position," on the appointment of Caslen. "He may have a legal right (to call the meeting), but will he go to Clemson, The Citadel, Winthrop, the Port Authority, or any other SC public institution and tell them how to vote?"

Williams said "we've been there, done that, and can do better" than vote for Caslen to replace Harry Pastides as USC's President

Pastides has been at the helm of USC for ten years and is scheduled to retire as the leader of the state's flagship university on July 31. USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly has been named interim president-elect as of August 1.

Caslen was superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West from  July 2013 to June 2018, and currently serves as the chief accountability officer overseeing reformation of finance and administration operations at the University of Central Florida in Orlando (This school had an enrollment 55,113 in 2016-17).

He was also on President Donald Trump's short list to become his national security adviser in 2017. 

Caslen does not have the required earned doctorate or terminal degree listed on the job description for president of USC. But he does have a Masters in Business Administration from Long Island University and Master of Science in Industrial Engineering from Kansas State University.

When Caslen failed to get the vote earlier this year, 82% of the faculty and staff reportedly had negative views of the candidate. At that time, the search for the next USC president was officially reopened.

Williams says that McMaster is trying to create a crisis at the university where there is none -- "we have good student enrollment, a good interim president has been named.good student enrollment, and a good interim president has been named."

When asked if Caslen had enough support from the board to win the vote, Williams said, "Not if the board has a backbone. Right now, its split down the center. If he wins it will be by one or two votes... and it will be a bad thing for the university... it will be a step back, not forward. 

"We need someone young, we can do better."

When reached for this story, trustee Leah Moody and chairman of the board John von Lehe Jr both said "no comment."