Robert Caslen Bob and Weave cover image (copy)

Bob Caslen

COLUMBIA — All four University of South Carolina trustees who voted for former West Point superintendent Bob Caslen as president and are seeking reelection next year face opposition, a rare occurrence that was expected after the controversial hire.

One trustee who voted against Caslen also has challengers in the election by state lawmakers, according to a list released Wednesday by the joint legislative panel that screens state college board candidates. 

Opposition for college board incumbents is rare. Only one challenger has filed against an incumbent USC trustee over three elections since 2014.  

Three other USC trustees, including the board's only two elected female trustees, are running unopposed in 2020. All three trustees voted against Caslen, who drew the ire of some on campus because of his lack of academic experience and statements on diversity and sexual assault deemed insensitive.

Caslen was hired as president of South Carolina's largest college by an 11-8 vote in July after a contentious board meeting. The 65-year-old retired three-star general started work in August with a mission to contain costs and slow tuition hikes.

He has received generally good reviews, though he stirred controversy over the past week for comments that appeared to question whether USC would keep head football coach Will Muschamp in 2020. Caslen issued a statement Wednesday saying the school is committed to Muschamp despite the Gamecocks' lackluster losing season.

USC's board has been criticized for its handling in finding Harris Pastides' successor in the president's office.

The search did not yield a female finalist. Trustees then passed over four finalists, including Caslen, in April before deciding to vote on the combat veteran after lobbying from Gov. Henry McMaster. USC is facing possible sanctions from accreditors for McMaster's involvement. 

Activists pledged to find opponents for USC trustees who voted for Caslen, though not all of them are up for reelection next year. Half of the 16 members of the USC board will be chosen by the Legislature in 2020. The others, including four pro-Caslen voters, come up for election in 2022.

The four trustees who voted for Caslen facing challengers next year are Egerton Burroughs of Conway, Bubba Fennell of Greenwood, Hugh Mobley of Lancaster and Gene Warr of Lamar.

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Mobley is the board vice chairman who led the presidential search committee. Warr, whose law partner is House Speaker Jay Lucas, is a former board chair who sat on the search committee.

Burroughs, former chairman of real estate developer Burroughs & Chapin, drew three challengers including Morgan Martin, a former state lawmaker and state transportation commission chairman. The other three trustees are each facing one opponent to keep their seats.

Trustee Chuck Allen, a former Gamecock football star who is an Anderson attorney, is facing three challengers even though he voted against Caslen. One of his opponents is former House Education Committee Chairman Phil Owens.

Legislators tend to favor former colleagues in voting for board seats.

Former USC board chairman Miles Loadholt of Barnwell, Leah Moody of Rock Hill and Rose Newton of Bluffton are running unopposed. Newton's husband is a state representative. Moody is the board's only African American trustee.

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