With the University of South Carolina board of trustees expected to vote on a new president of the school, former colleagues are beginning to come out in support of retired Army Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, long thought to be the favorite for the post among some board members.
The USC board will meet Friday to vote on the school's presidency. Longtime President Harris Pastides is retiring at the end of the month.
Caslen, the former superintendent of West Point, was among four finalists for the presidency earlier this year, and seemed on the precipice of being named to the position. However, his candidacy caused concern among some faculty and students. Some questioned the fact that, despite his desire to lead a research university, he does not have a Ph.D. Opponents also pointed to comments from Caslen that suggested binge drinking contributed to sexual assault and that West Point improved diversity without lowering standards for minority cadets as red flags.
The board in April chose to reopen the presidential search, and named USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly as an interim.
But over the last two weeks, rumblings about Caslen have been rekindled, as Republican Gov. Henry McMaster has pushed for the USC board to name a new president. The governor's influence in the proceedings caused pushback from elected officials and ignited debate on social media.
While Caslen hasn't spoken publicly about his apparently revived candidacy, some of his former colleagues are now speaking out in favor of the military veteran.
One booster is Carol Quillen, the president of Davidson College. Quillen and Caslen at one point co-chaired the NCAA Commission to Combat Sexual Violence. The commission, formed in 2016, focused on ways athletic departments and athletic conferences could reduce sexual assaults.
"During our work together, I saw how Bob exemplifies qualities that truly matter in education — intellectual honesty, high aspirations, a foundational commitment to equity and inclusion, moral courage and a deep sense of responsibility to the next generation," Quillen said in a statement received by Free Times. "As a facilitator, he encouraged and listened to all voices while also pushing commission members to take on the most challenging issues we faced."
Quillen went on to say Caslen, "is committed to building inclusive cultures" where "equity and inclusion are real."
Caslen also received support Wednesday from Donald Outing, the vice president of equity and community at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Outing was, for three years, the chief diversity officer at West Point under Caslen.
In a letter sent to The Post and Courier, Outing says that, "if USC fails to install LTG Caslen as president, it will be because they failed to recognize his exemplary work in academic leadership, his commitment to diversity and inclusion, as well as his contribution and commitment to excellence at West Point."
Outing wrote that Caslen had a "vision of inclusivity" at West Point and that before Caslen's time there, diversity efforts at the academy were "done in small silos" without strategic framework.
"LTG Caslen is directly and personally responsible for transforming West Point culture; creating an environment that is more inclusive for women, underrepresented minority groups, and members of the LGBTQ community," Outing wrote. "He was the first superintendent, that I worked for, that created an environment of shared governance, that was more inclusive of our civilian faculty."
Outing pointed out that enrollment for women and African Americans rose at West Point during Caslen's regime.
Also among Caslen's Wednesday boosters was Shreveport, Louisiana Mayor Adrian Perkins, who penned a letter in support of the retired general. Perkins was the class president at West Point when Caslen was the commandant there.
Perkins also referenced the rise in African American and female enrollment at West Point under Caslen's watch.
"As commandant, Lt. Gen. Caslen was steadfast in his commitment to equal opportunity and adamant about his belief that diversity strengthens organizations," Perkins wrote.
While the former colleagues are now coming to Caslen's aid in regard to his record on sexual assault and diversity initiatives, the retired general seemingly wasn't able to connect with students and faculty on those topics during meetings earlier this year.
Public comments submitted about Caslen following "meet the candidates" events in the spring were overwhelmingly negative compared to other finalists.
During a July 12 press conference at the State House, longtime Democratic state Sen. Darrell Jackson, who has been critical of the rekindled selection process at USC, referenced Caslen's performance during the earlier presidential search.
"I think there are some people who had a favorite candidate going into this process," Jackson said. "They were not anticipating that candidate imploding like the candidate did. ... Just some of things he said about public drunkenness and its cause of sexual assault, that is hard to overcome. Very hard to overcome."