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University of South Carolina president resigns after speech controversies

COLUMBIA, SC – The beleaguered president of the University of South Carolina resigned on Wednesday, days after delivering an opening speech marred by allegations of plagiarism and misidentification of the school itself.

In a press release, the school announced that the chairman of its board of directors had accepted Bob Caslen’s resignation, thanking him for his service.

Harris Pastides, Caslen’s immediate predecessor who ruled the system for 11 years, will serve on an interim basis while a search for a permanent replacement is sought, officials said.

Last weekend, the board turned down Caslen’s verbal offer to resign. This came when Caslen admitted to taking two unattributed paragraphs of a speech by Admiral William McRaven, the Navy SEAL tasked with the task of eliminating terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Caslen, who gave the address to the graduates on Friday, called it an oversight. He also referred to the school as “University of California” during his remarks.

He apologized on Wednesday. “I’m sorry for those I let down,” Caslen wrote in a note to faculty, staff and students at the school. “I understand the responsibilities and higher standards of high level leadership. When these are not satisfied, trust is lost. And when trust is lost, you are unable to lead.

Caslen’s rise to the presidency in 2019 had drawn criticism. Student and faculty leaders clashed with the retired general and superintendent of the US Military Academy, arguing that he lacked qualifications, such as a doctorate or university research experience, and knew little about the school. That year, the faculty’s Senate unanimously approved a vote of no confidence.

Caslen supporters have bragged about his 43 years in the military and five years as superintendent of West Point. He had the backing of Governor Henry McMaster and Republican lawmakers who suggested he could bring federal programs to the school and a share of federal money. McMaster, an ex-officio board member, also personally called the directors at the time, urging them to call a special meeting to vote on Caslen.

Donors – including Darla Moore, a former board member and the university’s biggest benefactor – feared this amounted to undue political influence that could threaten the university’s accreditation. McMaster dismissed these ideas, with a spokesperson calling the specter of any undue influence “absurd.”

A McMaster spokesperson did not immediately return a message asking for comment on the resignation.

In 2019, directors voted 11-8 to hire Caslen, contrary to the unanimous approvals of his predecessors.

In power, Caslen’s tenure included other bumps. Last month, he said he took responsibility for the university’s failure to contact the Moore supporter after his mother’s death, leading the school’s biggest donor to deregister the university.

Moore, who has donated more than $ 75 million to the school – and for whom the business school is named – had asked administrators in 2019 to resume his presidential search rather than hire Caslen.

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