SC’s McMaster praises ex-USC President Caslen, who resigned amid plagiarism scandal

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Gov. Henry McMaster praised Bob Caslen, who resigned Wednesday night as president of the University of South Carolina.

“President Caslen did a splendid job in the two years that he was here,” McMaster said during a press conference Thursday at the State House.

McMaster said he also spoke to Caslen before and after his decision to step down.

“I told him that I was sorry to hear that’s what he wanted to do because I have enormous respect for him,” McMaster said.

“I think as the university continues to grow, particularly in some of these new areas, (we) will realize more and more how important the efforts that he launched are,” McMaster added.

It was the governor’s first public comments since Caslen’s resignation, which the the university announced late Wednesday, adding former USC President Harris Pastides would fill in as interim.

In an email through a spokesman, Caslen apologized for letting down the university and said he submitted his resignation to the USC Board of Trustees, which accepted it.

Over the weekend, a video of Caslen went viral after he mistakenly congratulated the 2021 graduates of the “University of California” before correcting himself. It was later reported that a portion of Caslen’s commencement speech was pulled from another commencement speech by retired Navy Admiral William McRaven. Caslen, a retired U.S. Army officer, did not attribute the quote to McRaven.

“I am sorry to those I have let down. I understand the responsibilities and higher standards of senior level leadership. When those are not met, trust is lost. And when trust is lost, one is unable to lead,” Caslen wrote.

The university says the search to find Caslen’s successor will start “immediately.”

But the search could prove harder for the state’s flagship school.

For starters, a handful of what could have been internal candidates — including the outgoing Provost William Tate, who will soon become Louisiana State University’s first Black president — have left or are leaving the university.

Caslen’s hiring was protested by students and faculty, who were critical about his lack of an academic background — Caslen was a former superintendent at military college West Point, but lacks a doctoral degree — his involvement in the Iraq War and comments he made about “binge drinking” and campus sexual assault.

The influence the Governor’s Office had in Caslen’s hiring gave the process another black eye, leading to a review by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to look into whether there was “undue influence” in the vote to name Caslen president.

This story will be updated.