Caslen (copy) (copy)

Robert Caslen, superintendent at the U.S. Military Academy for five years, could become the next president at the University of South Carolina.  File/Spc. Anna Pol/U.S. Army

Like it or not, retired Army Gen. Robert Caslen will be the University of South Carolina’s 29th president. Everyone who cares about South Carolina’s flagship university — and, for that matter, about our state — needs to give him a chance to succeed. More than that, actually, we all need to help him succeed.

That doesn’t mean giving him a free pass. It does mean letting him start with a clean slate. It means not standing in the way of his success.

If the former West Point superintendent is as awful as student protesters believe he is, if he’s as unfit for the job as faculty insist he is, then he’ll demonstrate that soon enough — and critics can pile on the criticism when that happens. But few public figures are as bad as their critics claim (or as good as their supporters say), and we have no reason to believe that Mr. Caslen is anywhere near as flawed as opponents have painted him.

Who knows? He might turn out to be a pleasant surprise to students who were infuriated by comments that were clearly taken out of context, and to faculty who might have let their anger over Gov. Henry McMaster's intervention color their thinking on Mr. Caslen himself.

We should all hope so.

It’s deeply disturbing that the search process degenerated into the latest flash point in the culture wars, fed by people on the left and the right who spend their time searching for reasons to be offended, and ways to give offense.

The new president’s supporters were absolutely correct when they said he shouldn’t have been passed over because a few dozen — or even a few hundred — students got angry about who he wasn’t, and then whipped into a frenzy over comments that were twisted to suggest something very different from what he was saying. But it was also disturbing to see how so many people flocked to his support out of a desire to put those protesting students in their place. Neither motivation was appropriate, and we desperately hope that no trustees voted on the basis of either.

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We hope, too, that Mr. Caslen understands that he’s not in the Army any more, he’s not a general any more, and USC’s students aren’t soldiers who report to him.

Although some of the opposition was beyond his control, it was turbocharged by his own lack of care in choosing his words when discussing sexual assault, diversity and other sensitive topics. The new president doesn’t have to become beloved on campus like outgoing President Harris Pastides, but he does need to do a better job than we’ve seen so far of communicating his thoughts clearly with students, faculty, administrators and the public. The university doesn't need to be put in a position of continually having to clarify what its president actually meant to say. He also needs to work diligently to win over the faculty, who have expressed legitimate concerns about his lack of academic experience.

Colleges are facing tremendous headwinds. They’re pricing themselves out of reach for a growing segment of society — which should concern every one of us. But many Americans aren’t at all concerned — indeed they are cheering against them, as a disturbing number of people on the political right have decided that colleges are the enemy. In the meantime, a disturbing number of people on the left are feeding this narrative with their efforts to impose their hypersensitive standards on everyone and squelch dissenting voices. And all of those forces helped feed the divide that emerged during the search process.

But now the search is over, and it’s time for everybody to pull back from their extreme positions and help our new president get to work making sure that USC is the flagship institution our state needs it to be: that it provides the educational and entrepreneurial vision and leadership necessary to take its place among the great universities of our nation, and that it provides the education that the citizens of our state must have in order to help South Carolina move to that next level as well.

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