USC faculty and alumni rally for new presidential search

Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin speaks to a crowd of USC faculty, students and alumni on July 17, 2019 as they call on trustees to cancel the search for a new president.

On Wednesday, with University of South Carolina trustees inching closer to a Friday vote on retired Army Gen. Robert Caslen for university president, hundreds of people rallied behind faculty who want to call off the decision.

Earlier this week, a group of faculty members started a movement, Gamecocks 4 Integrity, to close the current presidential search and start a new one that's more transparent to USC students and employees. 

"We're sad that we're even at this point," said Bethany Bell, a social work professor. "We're sad that this process seems to have gone off the rail."​

The board voted to continue the search in April after passing over Caslen and three other finalists, so faculty members were taken aback when Gov. Henry McMaster lobbied board members to have a vote on Caslen.

And on Tuesday, the university's accreditor, the Southern Association for Colleges and Schools, sent a letter requesting a report of USC's presidential search process by Aug. 10. The association is watching closely for political interference, the letter said.

"As faculty, we have to say this is a teaching moment," said Jennifer Pournelle, an earth, ocean and environmental researcher. "If the process is de-railed by the governor ... We don't just risk losing accreditation. We will."

A few hundred people attended the rally outside Russell House on the USC campus, where speakers speakers such as Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and former state Rep. Bakari Sellers echoed their concerns.

"People believe it will be over this Friday. It won't be," Benjamin said. "The stakes are too high."

To make university decisions like the presidential search more inclusive, some used the rally to call for a student vote on the board.

"This board lacks diversity," Sellers said. "They may get mad, but I do believe we need to have student voices."

USC senior Lyric Swinton, who organized a student movement called Next Era UofSC, echoed the faculty and alumni movement's goal.

"While I breathe, I hope," Swinton said, invoking the S.C. state motto, "that the board of trustees will stand in solidarity with us."

Protestors with both Gamecocks 4 Integrity and Next Era UofSC are expected to attend the board meeting on 10 a.m. Friday at the USC Alumni Center.

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