by DRUCILLA BARKER || One might imagine that former South Carolina lawmaker James Smith would have extensive experience with retired General Robert Caslen to provide such a strong endorsement of his candidacy for the presidency of University of South Carolina, despite a unanimous vote of no confidence from the faculty and powerful opposition from every major constituency of the university community.
But it appears that Smith hardly knows the man. In fact, The (Charleston, S.C.) Post and Courier reported that Smith decided to go public with his support of Caslen after a phone call that occurred the day before the infamous vote. While Caslen told The Daily Gamecock that he “intentionally removed” himself from advocacy for his candidacy in the two weeks preceding the vote, apparently an exception was made for Smith.
Many at USC are curious to know what was said during that conversation that was so compelling as to produce the curious alliance that’s unfolded in recent weeks.
Since picking up Caslen in USC’s private jet last week, Smith has been camped out at the Osborne administration building, managing the new president’s calendar, attending his meetings, and escorting him around campus. There have also been reports that that Smith is doing some damage control for the president, including meeting with high-profile attorneys around town who might take a special interest in the questionable process by which Caslen was selected. It is a remarkable role for a Palmetto College employee who has been at the University for just over six months.
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(Via: The University of South Carolina)
This leads me to ask: In what formal capacity has Smith been empowered to carry out these duties? Unfortunately, no one seems to know. To my knowledge, there has been no announcement that he has been promoted to Chief of Staff or any other role in University administration. If Smith has been promoted, Caslen should immediately announce his new appointment and be prepared to answer questions regarding whether Smith’s end-game support for his candidacy played a role in his promotion.
Given that Smith has no experience as an educator, no experience working in a university, and no experience managing an organization of this size, it would be reasonable to expect that such a move would result in further discord within the university. As a federal contractor, USC is required to be an equal opportunity employer. Appointing Smith to a high-level administrative position at Osborne without a search violates the policies established to ensure that the university is in compliance with state and federal anti-discrimination laws and regulations. We have had quite enough cronyism and political opportunism.
If President Caslen wishes to establish a reputation for integrity in leadership, he should run a fair and transparent search for every position on his leadership team. There are many staff at USC who work hard, possess the requisite training and experience, and deserve a fair shot. For years, we have allowed a small group of politically-connected elites on both sides of the aisle to operate without transparency or accountability to those they lead. It is time for real change.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Dr. Drucilla Barker is a Professor in the Department of Anthropology and the Women’s & Gender Studies Program. She is a radical, feminist economist whose research interests are globalization, feminist political economy, and economic anthropology.
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