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USC board of trustees scheduled to meet Friday

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One week after a hastily scheduled meeting to vote on a new university president was canceled, the University of South Carolina board of trustees is scheduled to take up the matter again on Friday.

A Richland County judge signed a temporary injunction preventing the board from meeting and voting on July 12. According to court documents, the injunction was issued at the request of trustee Charles H. Williams II, with a hearing on the injunction set for Friday.

Circuit Judge Robert Hood’s ruling noted that state law requires five days’ notice of USC board meetings.

The rescheduled meeting is set for 10 a.m. at the Pastides Alumni Center at 900 Senate St. The agenda has not yet been made public.

A group of USC faculty, staff, alumni and supporters, dubbed #Gamecocks4Integrity, plans to assemble at 4:30 p.m. today at USC's Russell House patio to “address the lack of a transparent selection process,” according to a news release.  

S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster has pushed for a vote on Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, seen as the frontrunner of four presidential finalists approved by the board earlier this year. Caslen, a former West Point superintendent, was the only finalist with experience leading an institute of higher learning, but the board reopened the search after an outcry over the lack of diversity among the quartet of male finalists.

Brendan Kelly, USC Upstate chancellor, was named interim president. Harris Pastides is retiring in August after 10 years leading the university.

Harris Pastides is retiring after 10 years as president of the University of South Carolina. The process of finding his successor has not been a smooth one. (Photo/File)Calling last week’s scheduled meeting “illegal,” Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, S.C. Sen. Darrell Jackson and a group of University of South Carolina students demanded last Thursday that the board cancel its meeting scheduled for the next day.

Benjamin, who is a USC graduate and served on the presidential search committee, spoke at a news conference July 11 at the S.C. Statehouse.

“This is not about a candidate. This is about a process,” he said. Benjamin said it was an “overreach” of McMaster to request the board of trustees meet last week to vote on Caslen.

McMaster is the ex officio chair of the board, serving for the duration of his tenure as governor.

The board announced on July 9 it would meet July 12 to vote. Benjamin said that violated the state law cited by Hood.

Benjamin said he called McMaster about the originally scheduled meeting. During the conversation, McMaster told him he had not met Caslen but “heard he was a good guy.”

Jackson, D-Richland, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Higher Education Subcommittee, said he asked state Attorney General Alan Wilson for an opinion on the announcement of the meeting.

“This process has been violated,” he said. “It is egregious.”

Jackson said he would also ask for a hearing with the trustees before the Senate Oversight Committee.

“He (McMaster) has literally undercut the board,” he said. “We didn’t elect the board to be a puppet to anyone.”

USC student Lyric Swinton noted that the push for the vote came when few students are on campus during the school’s summer session.

“The timing of this has been so strategic,” Swinton said.

Reach Renée Sexton at 803-726-7546.

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