The University of South Carolina's controversial search for a president is coming to an end.

The board plans to vote Friday on a new leader, most likely retired Army Gen. Robert Caslen. 

The former West Point superintendent has split the campus with protests over his comments and record, and his support from state political leaders. 

Here's a look at where the vote for the next president of South Carolina's largest college stands.

How did things get here?

USC President Harris Pastides announced his plans to retire in October with his 11-year tenure ending this month.

Many on campus were outraged in April when no women were among the four finalists chosen by a search committee. They were further angered when Caslen, the front-runner, made several missteps while speaking to students and faculty.

With dozens of negative online public comments and a protest outside, the board voted in late April to continue the search and named USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly as interim president.

Gov. Henry McMaster, angered by the general's treatment on campus, was determined to get Caslen a board vote. He called each trustee to lobby for Caslen over July Fourth week.

A vote slated for July 12 was scuttled when a trustee won a court injunction because the board did not send the meeting notice five days in advance as required by law. The board rescheduled the vote for Friday.

What did Caslen say/do that has some folks so upset?

Caslen's remarks included a statement that some took to mean binge drinking was responsible for sexual assault, and a brag about increasing diversity without lowering standards for minority West Point cadets. Caslen has said his remarks were taken out of context. 

Last time USC put a military commander in charge, things did not go so well

He also does not have a doctorate degree or the research pedigree of previous presidents. A few don't like that Caslen was a finalist to become President Donald Trump's national security adviser.

But what has many upset now is that Caslen could win the job because of major Statehouse influence. The Faculty Senate issued a vote of no confidence in Caslen and asked trustees to reopen the search.

An alumni and faculty rally was held on campus Wednesday and students have planned a protest at the vote Friday. 

"We're sad that we're even at this point," said Bethany Bell, a USC social work professor. "We're sad that this process seems to have gone off the rail."

Why is Caslen in the running?

Caslen is seen by Statehouse leaders as a change agent who could control costs and lower tuition hikes because he is not an academic like Pastides and his predecessors. They also note Caslen raised money at West Point and helped the school's athletic teams.

The state's top lawmakers have heaped praise on Caslen and encouraged those who have worked with him to send letters of support.

One such letter released to reporters came from the mayor of Shreveport, La., Adrian Perkins, who touted the general's work on diversity and inclusion when he attended West Point: "I have not encountered a single cadet under Lt. Gen Caslen’s leadership ... that speaks ill of him."

While Calsen has detractors, the military remains very popular in much of South Carolina, which has one of the nation's largest veteran populations and four major base hubs.

Has this hurt the school?

Few have seen such acrimony on campus in some time, perhaps since the Vietnam War. The consensus is that the presidential search might not look not look good now but anger will die down. On the other hand, the protests could give an ongoing voice of factions of students and faculty to win other campus issues. 

USC's accreditors have sent a letter to Pastides about concerns over outside influences on school management. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools wants an explanation for McMaster's calls to trustees and his potential plans to lead the meeting on a vote for president. 

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McMaster's office said the governor has done nothing wrong because he is chairman of the USC board, according to state law. McMaster told reporters in the Upstate on Thursday that does not plan to chair the meeting Friday. He planned to attend the meeting on July 12 before it was called off. Governors assign a designee to meetings and almost never go themselves.

McMaster's involvement is unlikely to result in any lasting damage for USC, but the inquiry is ammo for the anti-Caslen groups. 

What will the board do?

Caslen holds a narrow margin of support on the board, according to multiple sources.

He likely had enough votes to get hired in April. But the board, which prizes consensus, did not want to bring in a president on a split vote. That has changed. Two trustees have come out publicly against Caslen.

USC Faculty, Alumni, Students Rally to Call Off Presidential Search

But a number of prominent state government officials have asked the board to vote for Caslen over campus protests: "If USC allows itself to be led by the mob, the people of South Carolina need to reconsider their support for USC," State Treasurer Curtis Loftis wrote.

While they hear the complaints about Caslen, board Vice Chairman Hugh Mobley said, trustees must do what's right for the university to provide an affordable quality education. Protesters "didn't play a factor before, and they won't play a factor now," he said.

Trustee Charles Williams, who has opposed Caslen and the governor's involvement, said he will ask that board to discuss his hiring publicly during the meeting Friday rather than go behind closed doors. 

Caslen is not expected to be in town for the meeting Friday.

Trustees, some of whom have been on the board since the Reagan administration, say they have never seen anything like this.

“It really does upset me to see the divisiveness on our board," longtime trustee Eddie Floyd said. "It really breaks my heart.”

T. Michael Boddie contributed to this report.

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Columbia Bureau Chief

Andy Shain runs The Post and Courier's team based in South Carolina's capital city. He was editor of Free Times and has been a reporter and editor for newspapers in Charlotte, Columbia and Myrtle Beach.

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