- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 10, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - The University of South Carolina will not be punished by a group that accredits colleges after accusations it allowed the selection of its new president to be influenced by outside political forces.

The university will continue to be monitored by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and must continue to take steps to address the association’s concerns,, the group said.

The organization opened an investigation into the university after the tumultuous hiring of new president Bob Caslen, a retired Army general who was the superintendent of West Point for five years.

Caslen was named one of four finalists for the job, but University of South Carolina trustees in April voted unanimously to reopen the search. Gov. Henry McMaster then asked board members to not continue to search and vote for Caslen.

McMaster is by law a ex-officio trustee, complicating his political influence. He denied doing anything that could threaten the university’s accreditation and said that “it’s time to move on.”

“I’m excited. We have a great university, a great president and a great future,” the governor said Tuesday.

A punishment from the accreditation board could have made it harder to find professors and schools that lose their accreditation cannot receive financial aid from the government, crippling the institution.

The University of South Carolina has hired a consultant to help trustees better understand their role, and Board of Trustees Chairman John von Lehe said they are working to improve transparency, clarify the roles of the board and its members and have better orientation and yearly education programs.

“We have already begun the process of strengthening our governance procedures, and this will include periodic mandatory training for members, publishing new procedures for future presidential selections while ensuring integrity and compliance within ethical standards, and a thorough review of our existing bylaws,” von Lehe said in a statement released by the university.

Caslen was hired on a 11-8 vote. Presidents are typically chosen unanimously as a show of full support.

Student and faculty leaders said Caslen shouldn’t be chosen because he lacked qualifications for the post such as a doctoral degree or university research experience and knew little about the university.

The university’s top two living donors asked trustees not to vote, worried the process had become too political.

Supporters of Caslen said his 43 years in the Army would help him bring federal programs to the school and that he had more than enough experience to run the academic institution.


Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP

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