South Carolina

Court order blocks USC trustees from casting a Friday vote on Caslen’s presidency

A court order will prevent the University of South Carolina from naming a new president Friday.

Richland County Judge Robert Hood signed a temporary injunction Thursday afternoon preventing the board from meeting and casting a vote Friday.

State law requires USC’s board of trustees members to receive a written and mailed notice five days before the meeting. But the notices for Friday’s meeting on whether to name former U.S. Military Academy at West Point Superintendent Robert Caslen didn’t go out until Tuesday, said USC Board Chair John Von Lehe.

Trustee Charles Williams, who has been a vocal opponent of Caslen and McMaster’s involvement, filed the motion.

Asked why he opposed the Friday meeting, Williams, an Orangeburg attorney, said, “It would not be lawful. The point shouldn’t be just about Caslen. The point is you have a process and you don’t have a crisis, so why is the governor demanding a vote on Caslen?

“People don’t want to offend the governor. I don’t care,” Williams said. “I’m going to do what’s right.”

The board of trustees came close to selecting a new president in April, but backed out at the last minute, naming USC Upstate Chancellor Brendan Kelly as interim president. After that, the board said it would reopen the search, and it appeared they had moved on from Caslen and the three other finalists.

However, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster successfully pressured USC’s Board of Trustees to schedule the Friday meeting where they would have cast a yes or no vote on Caslen, according to a previous article from The State.

Before the court order was signed, McMaster was already preparing to postpone the meeting, according to a letter McMaster sent to Von Lehe.

“I respectfully recommend you consider rescheduling the meeting for the near term both for the convenience of those involved and to eliminate any unnecessary distractions or concerns regarding the timing of this special meeting,” the letter said.

McMaster spokesman Brian Symmes deferred to USC when asked about the legality of the meeting.

“This isn’t the governor calling the meeting,” Symmes said.

By enforcing the notification deadline, previous board decisions will likely stand, even if they were made at meetings where notification was given only three or four days before the meeting, Von Lehe said.

“I don’t think there would be any retroactive effect,” Von Lehe said. “I think you would have to have an objection.”

McMaster’s move has drawn criticism from many students and Democratic lawmakers, receiving attention from U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn and 2020 Democratic Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

Others, such state Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster — who served on USC’s board of trustees from 2009 to 2011 — supported McMaster’s decision.

While Gregory served on USC’s board, he said the only time then-Gov. Nikki Haley had been involved in a decision about one of USC’s top officials was when she replaced USC mega-donor Darla Moore with a campaign donor.

“I think the board is obviously at an impasse,” Gregory said. “The governor believes they have a good candidate in Caslen.”

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