The embattled president of the University of South Carolina resigned days after he delivered a commencement address marred by allegations of plagiarism and a misidentification of the school itself. In a news release, the school announced that the chairman of its board of trustees had accepted Bob Caslen’s resignation, thanking him for his service.
Harris Pastides, Caslen’s immediate predecessor who led the system for 11 years, will serve on an interim basis during a search for a permanent replacement, officials said.
The board last weekend refused Caslen’s verbal resignation offer. It came as Caslen acknowledged taking two paragraphs without attribution from a speech by Adm. William McRaven, the Navy SEAL in charge of the mission to take out terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.
“I am truly sorry. During my remarks in our weekend commencement ceremonies, I shared a well-known quote from Admiral William McRaven and failed to cite him as its original author and speaker,” Caslen wrote. “I was searching for words about resilience in adversity and when they were transcribed into the speech, I failed to ensure its attribution. I take full responsibility for this oversight.”
He apologized Wednesday while offering his resignation. In a letter WLTX that was sent by Caslen to faculty, students, and staff, Caslen wrote, “Trust is the most important ingredient of effective leadership, and when it is lost, it is nearly impossible to lead. I believe that is the case right now between the University of South Carolina and its president.”
“I am sorry to those I have let down,” he went on to say. “I understand the responsibilities and higher standards of senior level leadership. When those are not met, trust is lost. And when trust is lost, one is unable to lead.”
He also referred to the school as the “University of California” during his remarks. The crowd began to murmur and Caslen then corrected himself, saying “Carolina, sorry about that,” telling the crowd he owed the graduates push ups.
Caslen’s rise to the presidency in 2019 had been met with criticism. Student and faculty leaders opposed the retired general and U.S. Military Academy superintendent, arguing he lacked qualifications, such as a doctoral degree or university research experience, and knew little about the school. That year, the faculty Senate unanimously approved a no confidence vote.
Caslen’s supporters touted his 43 years in the military and five years as superintendent of West Point. He had the support of Gov. 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 trustees at the time, urging them to convene a special meeting to vote on Caslen.
Donors – including Darla Moore, a former board member and the university’s largest benefactor – feared that might amount to undue political influence that could threaten the university’s accreditation. McMaster dismissed those ideas, with a spokesman calling the specter of any undue influence “preposterous.”
A spokesman for McMaster did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the resignation.
In 2019, trustees voted 11-8 to hire Caslen, in stark contrast to his predecessors’ unanimous approvals.
In office, Caslen’s tenure has included other bumps. Last month, he said he took responsibility for the university’s failure to reach out to supporter Moore after her mother’s death, leading the school’s biggest donor to write off the university.
Moore, who has donated in excess of $75 million to the school – and for whom the school of business is named – had asked trustees in 2019 to restart its presidential search rather than hire Caslen.