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USC changes search firms to pick new president after troubles with Caslen hiring

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USC has hired a search firm to find a new president. File/John A. Carlos II/Special to The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — The University of South Carolina is going with a different presidential search firm after the troubled hiring of Bob Caslen in 2019.

USC is hiring R. William Funk & Associates to find a new president, the school's presidential search committee announced July 20.

The Dallas-based firm conducted searches at USC that led to the hiring of Harris Pastides as president and Joan Gabel as provost, as well as the current presidents at Clemson University and the College of Charleston. Gabel is now president at the University of Minnesota. Pastides is back as interim president after an 11-year tenure leading the state's largest college.

USC used Atlanta-based Parker Executive Search when Caslen, the retired superintendent of West Point, was hired amid controversy.

The search was marred by a lack of diversity among the final choices.

The pool of semifinalists reportedly included only one woman. There were none among the finalists. One African American was among the four finalists, Bill Tate, who would be hired as USC's provost before becoming president at Louisiana State University.

The finalists in the 2019 search included only one candidate who had ever run a college, Caslen.

While Caslen won praise for his handling of the pandemic, the former three-star Army general struggled to connect with parts of the university community among faculty and donors. Some of his issues stemmed from his hiring that came after lobbying by Gov. Henry McMaster despite Caslen not having a traditional research background or doctorate degree.

Caslen would also misspeak at times, notably calling the school the "University of California" in a commencement speech in May.

It was during that speech Caslen also plagiarized a quote. Though Caslen said it was an honest mistake, public outcry led to his resignation days later.

USC's presidential search committee has no set timetable, but the school wants a new leader in place by summer 2022.  

The Funk firm will receive $165,000 plus some expenses from USC. Parker received $137,000.

Funk's experience was part of the reason why it was chosen, the USC presidential search committee said. 

“The firm’s recruiting strategies have helped place many impressive candidates, including minorities and women, at leading universities throughout the country and within South Carolina,” Ernest Jenkins, faculty senate chair for the Palmetto College campuses and a member of the search committee, said in a statement. “These advantages, and their history of outreach to members of university communities, make them a compelling choice to assist us.”

During its nearly 40 years, Funk has helped recruit presidents or chancellors to 13 of the 14 Southeastern Conference schools, including recently at Texas A&M, as well as leaders at the University of North Carolina, University of Virginia, Ohio State University and Indiana University.

Firm founder Bill Funk will lead the USC recruitment efforts and report directly to school's search committee and board.

“We don’t believe in a ‘formula’ approach to president searches,” Funk said in a statement. “Each institution is different and there are precedents that must be honored when organizing and executing the search process."

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