COLUMBIA — The search for a new president of the University of South Carolina has caused a social media firestorm.
Some students, faculty and alumni have started groups concerned about Gov. Henry McMaster’s push for retired Army Gen. Robert Caslen to succeed Harris Pastides. They're also troubled that a new president will be hired while many of them are away for the summer.
Other accounts support the former West Point superintendent, believing he can transform the state's largest college.
“The media is doing the same thing to General Caslen that happened to Brett Kavanaugh,” Twitter and Facebook pages under the name Caslen for President posted, referring to the Supreme Court justice who faced a sexual assault allegation during his nomination.
“Bias, dishonesty, misquotes and partial stories," the post says. "Do not let a small group of people and the liberal media speak louder than the majority!"
Caslen for USC President page administrators, connected with USC College Republicans, have bought sponsorship for their posts so they can show up on non-followers’ social media feeds.
The USC board vote on Caslen slated for Friday is generating protests. A Facebook group with over 1,000 members, “USC Alum & Friends for a Fair Process,” is calling for a new and more transparent search.
Marie-Louise Ramsdale, a Charleston-area lawyer, said the group she moderates is not an attack on Caslen or his character. The group's complaint is against political pressure for a candidate without listening to the concerns of students, faculty and alumni.
“What you’re teaching students is that political clout is what matters, and not doing things the right way,” Ramsdale said. “I can’t control everything everybody posts, but we’re trying to focus on the right thing.”
Another Twitter account, @NextEraUofSC, is the social media arm of a USC student-led movement calling for a new presidential search without McMaster’s involvement.
“We aren’t just a group of anti-establishment students,” said Lyric Swinton, a senior at USC leading the movement. “We really lack a fair and just process. It’s so much bigger than just General Caslen.”
With the hashtag #NotBehindMyBackHenryMac, the account’s tweets criticize the governor and the board for pushing a decision on a candidate whom many students don't want, citing comments they think Caslen made linking binge drinking to sexual assault.
The Next Era UofSC group is leading a protest at the board meeting Friday.
Faculty also are using social media and the hashtag #Gamecocks4Integrity to call each other together for a campus rally Wednesday in favor of a new presidential search.
“We’re not going to go down silently,” Swinton said.
But pro-Caslen groups are lining up with students who back the general.
USC junior A.J. Abate, a former student government member, has been retweeted by the Caslen for President accounts. Abate credits Caslen for building a strong relationship with his former students and pulling in funds for West Point, and he said if other students looked into what Caslen has written about sexual assault they better understand what he meant by his comments.
“I completely respect what a lot of protestors are saying, but there are some other things I think are a little misunderstood,” Abate said. “We should be having a discussion on this, putting it out on social media.”
Meanwhile, some Clemson University fans have jumped into the social media storm with another sponsored page titled “God Country and Clemson.”
“The looney left students and faculty are in charge at USC. They protest a US Army General being their president and the board backs down,” a post on the page reads. “USC is now firmly established as a Chapel Hill, Austin, Berkeley style bastion of anti-American counter culture.”