John A. Carlos II (copy)

Bob Caslen was introduced as president of the University of South Carolina on July 22. John A. Carlos II / Special to The Post and Courier

COLUMBIA — Former West Point Superintendent Bob Caslen did not make a list of original semifinalists to become University of South Carolina's next president, but he eventually won the job after the head of the search committee added his name to the interview list, the school's former Faculty Senate chair said.

Caslen got the interview after another semifinalist backed out, though he was not among the agreed-upon alternates, said Marco Valtorta, a USC computer science professor who served on the search committee to find a successor to Harris Pastides.

Valtorta told the USC board at a meeting Friday that search committee chairman Hugh Mobley did not consult the entire panel — which included trustees as well as student, faculty and alumni leaders — about adding a new semifinalist. Valtorta did not identify the candidate in his surprising speech at Caslen's first board meeting, but in an interview he named the former three-star Army general.

"I didn't like the way this happened," Valtorta said.

Valtorta declined to say why Caslen failed to make the original list of semifinalists and does not know why Mobley wanted Caslen interviewed. 

"This is something that worries me," Valtorta said. "There could be innocent explanations or could not be. I don't know."

When asked about Valtorta's comments, Mobley sought out the university's chief attorney for advice. Mobley, the board's vice chair, then said he did nothing wrong. He declined further comment.

Board chairman John von Lehe said he did not know the search's inner workings because he did not serve on the committee, but he said that Valtorta's version of events was "not my understanding." USC trustee William Hubbard, a member of the search panel, said he thought Caslen was on the original list of semifinalists.

But two other members of the search committee said Valtorta's narrative about Caslen was accurate. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the search. 

Valtora's revelations raise tensions about the troubled search to find a new leader for South Carolina's largest college that has riled USC faculty and students, angered some state lawmakers who want to remake the board, and upset trustees who are looking to oust board leaders. USC's accreditors also have raised questions about heavy political influence in the search that ended with an 11-8 trustees vote as protesters shouted outside the boardroom, "Shame, shame, shame." 

"This was 100 percent rigged from the beginning," said Bethany Bell, a USC social work professor who has been one of the more vocal critics of the search.

Though the USC Faculty Senate gave Caslen a vote of no-confidence before he was hired last month, Valtorta said it's time to move on.

"Even though the process was complicated and flawed, at the end this is the outcome and we have to do our best to support the president for the good of the university," he said.

Caslen, who started working at USC on Aug. 1, said that he has no opinion on the search process.

"I was voted in, and I'm here," he said. "I'm not looking at what happened in the past. I'm looking at what I can do to move the university forward."

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Caslen gave a 40-minute presentation Friday to the USC board, outlining his plans for his first months in office.

They included finding a provost with a faculty-led search committee, opening an office of ethics and compliance to avoid scandals that devastated Michigan State and Penn State, and bringing in former college administrators to assess the state of USC.

Caslen said he has met with 1,000 people tied to the university since he was hired last month in the hopes of winning converts after the troubled search. He admitted a few people refused to meet with him.

"I recognize that the path to get here was through choppy waters," he told trustees. "It is my personal intent to calm the waters."

He ended his presentation saying "Beat Clemson" — reminiscent of the oft-said phrase about Army's football rival ("Beat Navy").

An expected no-confidence vote against board leaders von Lehe and Mobley over the handling of troubled search did not take place Friday. Trustees held off out of respect to Caslen's first board meeting.

Caslen supporters are upset the board leaders did not force a vote in April when there was a majority to hire Caslen, which led to a three-month delay. Critics are unhappy that the vote to hire Caslen came after pressure from Gov. Henry McMaster.

On Tuesday, a state Senate panel will hold a hearing on a bill that proposes cutting the size of the USC board nearly in half and removing all the current elected trustees.

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