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Students walk along the University of South Carolina Horseshoe. File/Andrew Whitaker/Staff

COLUMBIA — As the University of South Carolina board plans to hire a new president on July 19 after a court blocked a previous vote, three trustees say the school can choose a new leader without sharing the pick's identity ahead of time.

The consensus is that the board has just enough votes to hire retired Army Gen. Robert Caslen, whose candidacy has torn the campus.

But trustees Miles Loadholt, Eddie Floyd and Charles Williams told The Post and Courier on Friday the board could elect a president whose name has not been shared with the public because trustees passed on the four finalists picked by a search committee at an April meeting. The board, instead, voted to continue the search.

"My understanding is that this is a continuation of the search and we can vote on anyone," said Floyd, the longest-serving member of the board.

Loadholt, who sits on the search committee, said trustees have an obligation to pick the best president for the state's largest college and that he knows another candidate who should be considered. He declined to name the candidate but suggested he has support from other trustees.

"I wouldn't be out on this limb by myself," he said.

One name that has floated around is Lake City financier Darla Moore, USC's biggest benefactor and a former board member. Efforts to reach her Friday were unsuccessful.

Asked if the board is allowed to vote on a secret candidate, USC spokesman Jeff Stensland said the college would "prefer not to discuss the legality of hypothetical scenarios." The trustees' bylaws say the presidential search committee must provide the board with four finalists whose names are shared publicly.

USC's board is expected to choose a successor to Harris Pastides during a board meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. July 19.

Trustees will gather a week after a planned vote was canceled when Williams, an Orangeburg attorney, filed an injunction that the meeting would break state law.

The board received an emailed meeting notice three days in advance instead of the legally required five days by standard mail, Circuit Judge Robert Hood ruled in issuing a temporary restraining order Thursday.

USC's board will meet at the same time as a hearing on the injunction. Columbia attorney Joe McCulloch, who filed to get the restraining order on behalf of Williams, said the USC board may meet anytime as long it follows state meeting notification laws.

The university's presidential search is in turmoil because of objections to Caslen, the former West Point superintendent who was the front-runner among four presidential finalists.

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Caslen has been criticized for not having a doctorate degree or an extensive research background, as well as for his past comments that were taken to blame binge drinking for sexual assault. Some on campus did not like that the combat veteran, who was at the Pentagon during the 9/11 attacks, was a finalist to become President Donald Trump’s national security adviser.

The USC Faculty Senate gave Caslen a vote of no confidence during an emergency meeting Thursday and asked the board to conduct a new search. Students and faculty also are unhappy that a vote for a potentially unpopular president was taking place during the summer when the campus is sparsely populated.

Gov. Henry McMaster, upset at how Caslen was treated at the university this spring, has fought for a board vote to turn the general into USC’s next president. McMaster has never met Caslen but called him to apologize after the board’s decision in April. The governor, who by law chairs the USC board, plans to preside over the meeting when a new president is chosen.

Despite protests, Caslen would be a popular choice in a state that includes four major military bases and possesses one of the nation’s largest military veteran populations. Republican state lawmakers who dominate the Legislature believe the general, who worked at the University of Central Florida, also may  succeed in controlling costs and slowing tuition hikes because he does not come from a traditional academic background.

McMaster told trustees that Caslen, who has not returned multiple calls this week, could help win military contracts for the school with eight campuses and more than 50,000 students.

The other USC president finalists were: John Applegate, an executive vice president with the Indiana University system; William Tate, graduate school dean at Washington University in St. Louis; and Joseph Walsh, research vice president at Northwestern University.

Applegate and Walsh have said they are no longer interested in the USC job. Tate has declined comment.

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