The departure of Caslen, the return of Pastides



Well, I was planning to post something about General Caslen and his troubles, but now he’s gone.

So I thought, before I sit down to dinner, I’d post something to give y’all a chance to comment.

No great hurry since this isn’t a news blog. It’s an opinion blog. Trouble is, unlike most of South Carolina, I’ve never had very strong opinions about the guy — from the time of the brouhaha over his hiring until now, I was just watching and trying to make up my mind. Then these three things happened:

  • In a graduation speech, he called USC “the University of California.”
  • Also in a graduation speech (I’m not sure which one of the many he delivers), he plagiarized something Adm. William McRaven had said. After this, it was reported that he had offered his resignation to the trustee board chair, but that it was declined.
  • Then, we learned that the interchange between him and the board chair had occurred without the other members of the board knowing about it. And from what I read about that over the last day or so, some were kind of ticked about it.

I wouldn’t have fired him — or demanded his resignation, or whatever — over his confusing us with Berkeley. People make mistakes. It was a pretty weird mistake, but not a firing offense. But it was not a good thing. And as I collected information toward forming my impression of Caslen, that definitely went into the “bad stuff” pile.

And this was not a guy who could afford to have a lot of stuff in that pile, given the squirrelly way he was hired, and the fact that in the last two weird years, I hadn’t tossed anything, that I can recall, into the “good stuff” pile. So, not a good omen.

Nor would I completely abandon him over the plagiarism thing. I mean, you know, I love Joe Biden, so I’m sort of obliged to be open-minded about that. Still, it was something for the “bad stuff” pile.

At this point, I’m really wondering when he’s going to give me some stuff for the other pile.

The worst thing, for me, was the business about the board not being consulted before the chairman went through the whole “I surrender my sword/No, sir, I do not accept it!” routine. Of course, that’s not really on Caslen, is it?

That takes us back to the days when his hiring was being protested. Many of the most passionate people were calling for changing the governance structure.

Well, we just got a huge reason to seriously consider that. Because this board appears to be a mess.

My position on that is unchanged since about 1991 — back then, I advocated doing away with these medieval fiefdoms governed by their own, separate courts. I think we should do away with the USC trustees, the Clemson trustees, all those separate little kingdoms, and have one board governing higher education in the state. Make it a real state system, rather than competing private businesses. (Oh, and also restore state funding so they really ARE state institutions.)

That’s never come remotely close to happening, apparently too big a pill for too many, but we need to do something other than having all these little fiefdoms and princelings.

I’d be interested to see a real discussion about that, or about something other than what we have.

Meanwhile, I welcome back Harris Pastides, for however long the interregnum lasts. He’s a good guy…




7 thoughts on “The departure of Caslen, the return of Pastides

  1. Phillip

    You nailed it when you said “this was not a guy who could afford to have a lot of stuff in that [bad] pile, given the squirrelly way he was hired…” Some supporters of Caslen have said in recent days that those who bitterly opposed his hiring two summers ago were piling on in their criticism of the plagiarism episode and were looking for the first opportunity to push him out, and that may be true to some extent. The larger point is he never had a deep wellspring of support among the faculty at large, poisoned as it was by the way his hiring was handled. In his resignation letter faculty received tonight in our in-boxes, Caslen said that trust was essential in order to function as a leader and he acknowledged he no longer had the trust of his faculty/staff, and therefore could no longer lead. That’s not all the fault of the man: the process gave him little cushion to work with.

    I too thought the process two years ago was awful and politicized, but was willing to give him a chance. I never thought the problem was Caslen per se, more about McMaster and the Board of Trustees. And, truth be told, from my perspective until just a couple weeks ago I was feeling very optimistic about UofSC in general. I felt that the hiring of William Tate as Provost (remember, Tate was the preferred candidate of many faculty in the initial Presidential search rather than Caslen) was a great step. And many other things seemed to be headed in a good direction. Caslen seemed to “know what he didn’t know” and to seek counsel and guidance accordingly; at the same time, being someone more appealing to the particular political makeup of our Legislature would be of benefit to the University as a whole, come funding time, it seemed. We got through this difficult year, through a combination of remote and in-person teaching, tailored to the needs/comfort-level/health-issues of both individual faculty and the students as individuals.

    But then Tate got hired as LSU president, to leave us after only one year here; then the infamous commencement speech of Caslen, and then yes, another example of botched process by the Board of Trustees. So, as I said in my comment to you on Twitter, no winners here: not Caslen, with this messy unpleasant episode towards the end of a distinguished career; not the Board nor McMaster, dating back two years; certainly not UofSC, currently without a President or Provost and likely to be the target of some of our more yahoo-ist legislators, from whom I’m sure we’ll shortly be hearing calls for more funding cuts to punish those woke lefty professors with their cushy jobs who forced out this honorable General in some kind of commie coup.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Thanks for elaborating, Phillip! Your perspective is always valuable, particularly on a subject you are much closer to than most of us are…

  2. Bryan Caskey

    Hopefully, people see the errors committed in the search and hiring of Caslen and don’t repeat them. The failure of the process set Caslen up without the support of the students, faculty, and even a large portion of the Board of Trustees. Obviously, that’s a less than ideal way to go into a new job.

    The silver lining of all this is the Board can use this as an opportunity to conduct a good search and find a great candidate that reflects the best of South Carolina and can lead the University forward in a way everyone can be proud of.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Let’s hope so.

      Someone who was hired in a less divisive manner would have survived recent events. As things were, the general didn’t have a chance. They had set him up to fail. That’s a shame, because I thought he tried hard. It just wasn’t in the cards, the way they had hired him.

      By the way, I say “they” rather than something more specific like “the board” because it wasn’t just the board. Henry made it happen; the board just failed to find a way around it.

      Not that I blame Henry for wanting Caslen. I had no objections to him. As it unfolded, I knew more about him than I did about the other candidates, and I liked what I saw. Again, it was just a messed-up process…

  3. Barry

    I think he was a good person who tried hard and treated students well.

    I knew from the beginning it would be all uphill because of a few things

    1). Henry stuck his foot into the process. Anything Caslen did would look like Henry pulling strings. What really bothered me about this was that many of the people who had complained about politics being too involved at USC over the decades were all of a sudden glad McMaster stuck his foot into the process in a purely political move. The “I hate political games unless they benefit me” crowd.

    2) if you recall, Caslen was up for the President of DeVry at the same time and turned it down for USC. It sure looked like Caslen was going to take whatever job came along, and USC stepped up. Not exactly a great way to start a job as a university president.

    3) the real mess in all of this is that USC has board members, like Eddie Floyd, that can serve for 40 years. With 300,000+ living alums, to have one person serve for 40 years is shockingly pathetic. In comparison, the UNC system limits members to 12 year terms.

  4. Mark Stewart

    Can we all just admit that Henry is a disaster as a governor? He’s ethically challenged, a follower of the worst sort and prone to either authoritarianism or simply special perks for his “special” people. All the splatter from this messy ending should find its way to him.

    SC’s favored plan of having individual boards in patronage positions (usually both giving and receiving) is almost third world in its petty corruption. All of this, including losing the Provost, highlights the dysfunction of toothless rubberstamp boards .


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