COLUMBIA, S.C. — In the weeks leading up to the controversial vote for Retired General Robert Caslen, messages from the University of South Carolina Board of Trustees, show trustees attempting to sway others to vote their way.
On July 19, 2019, trustees voted 11 to 8 to approve the selection of Caslen as the next president of the university, with one voting as present.
The vote was controversial as some students, faculty and alumni were concerned with Caslen.
Their frustrations stemmed from comments he made early in the selection process about sexual assaults on campus. There were also concerns about the board's ability to keep the selection process transparent.
Some board members agreed with their concerns and believed that a vote for Caslen, which was heavily supported by Governor Henry McMaster, would bring politics into the decision.
According to more than a thousand documents that we requested through the Freedom of Information Act, text messages revealed that Governor McMaster reached out to board members for their support in voting for Caslen.
Like this text on June 28th to Rose Buyck Newton, saying "Rose, this is Henry McMaster. I'd like to speak to you about General Caslan. Please call whn you have a monent."
A text to Dan Adams, Governor's designee on the board, says "I fully support any and all efforts to hire General Caslan."
A text from Thad Westbrook to vice chair Hubert Mobley also showed support for Caslen saying "Henry's willing to do anything else we need to recruit Caslen."
Trustee Charles Williams was very vocal about his concerns with the retired general, and worked to lobby votes against Caslen.
Two weeks before the vote, Williams reached out to board member Leah Moody, believing 10 people would vote no. He is explained in a text, "I'm trying to get in touch with John Von Lehe and I've been talking with Gene Warr and may be able to swing him. I think Thad, Hugh, William and Mach and the two morons appointed by the governor are a waste of time."
Williams also reached out to education superintendent Molly Spearman, saying in a text "Caslen is controversial and not the right choice. We need your vote to prevent this from happening."
Spearman replied, explaining that she spoke to Caslen and was "especially interested in his commitment to public education and his thoughts on how the university should be involved with supporting teachers and students from rural and high poverty areas."
Other board members also spoke with Caslen ahead of the vote. Dan Adams explained in a text that "as of this minute I believe we have more than enough votes."
Caslen has been president of the university since August 1st.
Later messages showed board members interested in rebuilding after the vote and requesting new leadership within the board.
In an email to the board Williams wrote "a house divided will not stand."