USC board of trustees chooses new chair despite uncertainty

Maayan Schechter/mschechter@thestate.com
·2 min read

Thad Westbrook will be the new chair of the University of South Carolina board of trustees even though he hasn’t been officially reappointed to the board.

Westbrook was chosen to replace Dorn Smith, who was elected board chair in 2020.

“I want to thank the board for this honor ... I appreciate you’re vote of confidence,” Westbrook said.

Westbrook and four other incumbent trustees — C. Edward Floyd, John von Lehe, Smith and Charles Williams — sought to be reappointed to the board earlier this year by the General Assembly. But after several legislators criticized the board for recent controversies, the Legislature did not take final action on them.

State Sen. Dick Harpootlian, D-Richland, said all five will undergo another screening soon.

“I look forward to having conversations with members of the legislature,” Westbrook said.

The USC board has received much scrutiny from students, donors and state lawmakers for several controversies during the last few years.

One was the 2019 hiring of Robert Caslen as president. Caslen resigned two years later. The search for Caslen’s successor was also rocky. A top candidate for the position dropped out of the running, and some wished that the process involved more campus community input.

The multi-million dollar contract buyouts of former football coach Will Muschamp and former men’s basketball coach Frank Martin were also points of contention. When the athletic department could not afford to end the contracts on its own, it borrowed roughly $10 million from the university’s general fund.

“Every other board of every other institution in this state does not have this kind of open conflict,” said Harpootlian.

The controversies ignited a bill that would restructure the board.

The board was originally designed to have 20 voting members. Under the proposed legislation, it would have 15, and members would not be chosen based on judicial districts as they are now.

While it was approved in the House, the Senate’s legislative session ended before it could be voted on. If the bill had passed, all board members’ terms would have ended by summer 2023. Harpootlian previously said he plans to refile the bill.