In a text to a USC board of trustees member after some students and faculty protested his candidacy, Caslen said, “My character is being assassinated through all this. All my life I have tried to live a life of character, and to see it destroyed through manipulation is about all I can take. I only wish there was a counter-narrative out there, as the press is fully on board with these radical, extremist ideas.”
Now, Caslen is clarifying those remarks, saying his critics were not necessarily “radical” nor “extremist.” Rather, he was referring to those who attacked him personally for things that weren’t true.
“I fought for 43 years for people’s right to protest and express themselves, but there were some comments that were directed at me, my service” that were not accurate, Caslen said Monday. “Certainly, my comments were not on those who opposed my candidacy or that opposed me personally or (that) there was opposition to the process.”
Lyric Swinton, a USC student who helped lead protests against Caslen, said she was “as always, disappointed but not surprised” at Caslen’s comments that surfaced in the text message.
Caslen’s road to USC’s presidency was a controversial one.
Caslen was first named among four finalists in April. All of those finalists were men, and only one was a person of color, which drew protests against USC’s board of trustees. Later, students and some faculty protested against Caslen specifically for his role in the Iraq War, his lack of a doctorate degree and comments he made about sexual assault (though, those comments were likely taken out of context), according to previous articles from The State.
The board, too, was split on Caslen and they decided to reopen the search. However, in July, S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster began calling board members asking them to support Caslen. After that, the board voted 11-8 (with one abstention) to approve Caslen as USC president.
The board was also split as to whether or not the opposition to Caslen was ‘radical,’ according to text messages The State obtained through the S.C. Freedom of Information Act.
“I can promise you that the students at (the) university and faculty are not radicals,” USC Trustee Charles Williams said in a text message to a fellow board member.
Another board member disagreed.
“I watched Fox News and the radical left is trying to control all conservatives on university campuses, including our board,” one board member said. “I was already in favor of Caslen when the radical left faculty and students ‘threatened’ us several members jumped ship. Not me!!”
That board member appears to be Bubba Fennell. However, Fennell has denied making these comments when reporters from The State reached him for a previous story.
“I don’t recall saying anything like that, and I think I would have enough sense not to put that in an email,” Fennell said in a previous article from The State.