USC alumnus encourages donors to cut off donations if board approves Caslen, others demand respect

Published: Jul. 17, 2019 at 9:09 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - One University of South Carolina alumnus is threatening to stop donating to the school if its board of trustees vote Friday to approve presidential finalist Robert Caslen.

Hakeem Jefferson, a 2011 graduate of the university, recently wrote a letter to the Daily Gamecock, the student newspaper. In it, he encourages the board of trustees to listen to the campus community, some of whom aren’t happy with how the search process has been conducted, and not hold a vote on Robert Caslen.

In the letter, Jefferson writes, “I urge the Board of Trustees to resist pressure from Governor McMaster to move forward with this vote. And though I love the University of South Carolina and am proud to support it financially, I will have no choice but to withhold all future contributions if the board chooses to bow to this pressure.”

“He is not a scholar that has come up in the tradition of the academy, he lacks an understanding of the kinds of intricacies of faculty life which is a core part and a core function of the university, research mission at a place like South Carolina is part of the identity of the place,” Jefferson told WIS.

Jefferson works as an associate professor of political science at Stanford University but has been watching the presidential search unfold since current president Harris Pastides announced his retirement last October.

“I think we should be really concerned with the head of a major flagship university is viewed by many as a political appointee who comes with the baggage of politics. What I’m frustrated most about is the governor, who doesn’t regularly attend the meetings of the board, has over-politicized a process that should not be politicized.”

If the board moves forward with a vote on Friday and Caslen is elected, Jefferson said he wants money to do the talking.

“I would encourage big donors of the university, who give significant amounts of money, who endow certain scholarships at the university, to say to the board of trustees, this ought to be a decision without politics at play,” he said.

Not everyone shares the same feeling about Robert Caslen. USC Law School alumnus Bill Connor said Caslen’s military background and leadership would prove an asset to the university.

“As a three-star general he is in charge of tens of thousands of people both in Iraq and in peacetime commands and as a division commander he’s in charge of going on 20,000 people, handling billions of dollars of budgeting, all of that would make up for any criticism of the size of West Point.”

Caslen earned two masters degrees, but many critics point to his lack of a terminal degree. Connor, a terminal degree holder himself, said it doesn’t play a significant role in the running of an institution or being a leader.

“I think there could be a bit of arrogance on the professors because that’s their life and that’s their credential so they put more emphasis than it should be, and that’s why the board picks the president, not the professors,” Connor said.

Connor, a 29-year military veteran, said he is embarrassed by the way Caslen was treated during his trip to campus in the spring and is disappointed the board of trustees did not speak out condemning comments made by some protestors about Caslen’s military career.

“They need to declare very forcefully that they’re not going to tolerate students who go slamming the careers of people like General Caslen,” Connor said.

Board of Trustee member Chuck Allen said the board should have spoken publicly in April after deciding to pass on the four finalist candidates. As a result, he said public perception that the board folded to the protestors has become a reality for many, despite board members claiming the protests had nothing to do with their ultimate decision.

The agenda for Friday’s meeting is expected to be released on Thursday.

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