COLUMBIA — Gov. Henry McMaster, one of retired Army general Bob Caslen's biggest backers, said the former University of South Carolina president will be remembered for expanding the school's influence in fields such as cybersecurity.
"I think he did a splendid job," McMaster told reporters May 13, a day after Caslen resigned amid a plagiarism scandal. "I'm sorry to see him go."
The governor said that he spoke with Caslen after he chose to resign May 12, days after he failed to cite the source on two paragraphs in a commencement speech.
"He explained that he thought the best thing to do was to go and explained why and that's his decision and the board accepted his decision," McMaster said. "I told him that I was was sorry to hear that's what he wanted to do, because I have enormous respect for him."
The governor cited Caslen's work in building relationships with the Army Cyber Commands in Georgia.
"He expanded the influence of the university," McMaster said. "I think he's done great work for the people of our state through that university. I am very appreciative for what he did in, in two short years, and I think as the university continues to grow, particularly in some of these new areas, we'll realize more and more how important the efforts he launched are and will be to our state."
McMaster did not question USC accepting Caslen's resignation.
"I presumed that they made the decision that they thought was the right one," the governor said. "And I think now we need to look to the future."
McMaster lobbied for the USC board to hire Caslen in 2019 after trustees failed to vote for any of the four finalists in an initial vote. The governor is a member of the college board but appoints a designee to attend meetings.
The governor's lobbying got USC in hot water with its accreditors for undue political influence. While the school was not sanctioned, the board was asked to rework its bylaws and operating procedures to become more in line with the best practices at other colleges.
Asked about his role in a new search, McMaster repeated that he is a member of the board.
"I think the university is going to do just fine," he said. "I think it is growing in strength and I'm sure they have processes in place now to make it very clear as to what is happening. It should eliminate some of the questions that came up before."
Concerns linger that recent upheavals at USC, including the problematic 2019 presidential search and a spat with mega-donor Darla Moore, could hurt the school's chances of getting good candidates.
McMaster did not offer details in what he wanted in a new president, but he expressed confidence the board would find a suitable replacement for Caslen.
"Because South Carolina and the University of South Carolina are such great places to be, I think that we will be able to find a very, very fine president," he said. "I know the board is determined to do that and then I know that they'll succeed."