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'Undue influence' from Governor in USC's presidential search, board finds

A SACS team will visit USC later this year, and is requesting that the university submit a monitoring report by early September.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The accrediting board that has been looking into the University of South Carolina's presidential search process has found that there was 'adequate evidence of undue influence from Governor Henry McMaster during the selection process.

The findings, from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, were made public after a meeting of that group's board earlier this week. They then sent a letter to USC, which WLTX requested and received a copy of. 

The letter, addressed to USC's President Bob Caslen, requests that USC submit a monitoring report by early September, ahead of a visit from a special SACS committee. They are expecting USC to submit proof that it has changed its policy or procedure to protect the institution from undue influence by external people, and to prove that its board is regularly evaluating its chief executive officer.

As WLTX previously reported, the selection of Caslen was controversial, with some faculty and students saying he didn't have the necessary qualifications to be president, and some others who were upset over comments he made linking binge drinking to campus sexual assaults. Ultimately, however, the board voted in favor an 11-8-1 split in the final tally.  

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But during the selection process, one trustee complained that Gov. Henry McMaster got personally involved to force a vote in favor of Caslen. McMaster, a supporter of Caslen's candidacy, denied the claims saying he just wanted the board to come to a conclusion.  

WLTX has requested a statement in response to SACS finding from the Governor's Office.

“Governor McMaster is the ex-officio chairman of USC’s board of trustees by law – to suggest that he can’t make phone calls to fellow board members about such an important decision is ludicrous,"  McMaster Communicatons Director Brian Symmes said in a statement. "This obsession over a clearly legitimate decision raises more questions about inappropriate outside influence by SACS than it does about this enormously successful South Carolina institution.”

We asked USC for a statement and they referred us to a previously released statement from President Bob Caslen which said , " We are grateful for all of the hard work SACSCOC put into its review of univeristy processes and for hte work they will continue over the next year. We are committed to working with SACSCOC--as well as AGB and the entire university community --to strengthen our ethics, integrity and good governance practices across the institution. This represents a tremendous opportunity to work together , using feedback from SACSCOC and AGB, to make our university stronger than ever."

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