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USC's New President Shares Top Priorities: Academic Excellence, Research & Diversity

USC president Robert Caslen during his first press conference Monday, July 22, 2019
Thelisha Eaddy/SC Public Radio
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USC president Robert Caslen during his first press conference Monday, July 22, 2019

Strides in academic excellence, research and diversity are near-term goals of Robert ‘Bob’ Caslen, the University of South Carolina’s new president. Monday, the retired lieutenant general, who was elected into the role the previous Friday, held his first press conference at the University’s law school. But before talking about these goals and mastering future obstacles, the 29th president first took time to address comments from his recent past that stirred controversy around his candidacy and ultimate election.

“In April, I never intended to shift responsibility for sexual assault onto the shoulders of victims. There is never any excuse for sexual abuse.”

Caslen, Chair of the NCAA Commission to Combat  Campus Sexual Violence, said sexual assault is a crime

I want to apologize to those who felt I was blaming victims

committed when one human being violates the human dignity of another. He said “I want to apologize to those who felt I was blaming victims. That was the furthest thing from my intended words and I'm truly sorry for those who felt otherwise.”

During the University’s search and election process for the school’s next president (which included controversies over Caslen’s past comments and credentials) the public did not hear from him. Monday, he explained that he purposely avoided the media because he felt what was happening was not about him.

Protesters outside the USC Board of Trustees meeting on July 19 before Robert Caslen was elected the 29th president of the University in an 11-for; 8- against and 1-no vote split.
Credit Thelisha Eaddy/ SC Public Radio
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Protesters outside the USC Board of Trustees meeting on July 19 before Robert Caslen was elected the 29th president of the University in an 11-for; 8- against and 1-no vote split.

“This was really about the future of the university; and the members who lead this university are our board of trustees and that's their responsibility to work through all of this, which they successfully did.”

In introducing himself, Caslen affectionately said to call him Bob. Before meeting with reporters, he spoke with students about diversity, sustainability and also mental health efforts on campus. Caslen also said he will continue to meet with faculty, staff, Alumni, university contributors, community leaders and others.

“Every one of our stakeholders deserves a voice and every member of the team Carolina should not only feel valued; they should know that they are indeed a valued member of the team.”

So, what can the University of South Carolina expect from Bob Caslen?

The new president spoke about his vision for the state’s Flagship University, but said “our vision cannot just be my vision.” He added, a comprehensive vision must be shared by all and that he wanted to listen, learn and assess to create a vison that includes “everybody’s perspective of where the school needs to go.”

the University of South Carolina will be a preeminent university in the United States of America

Caslen did offer what he said is a common theme, right now: “the University of South Carolina will be a preeminent university in the United States of America.”

In accomplishing this, Caslen said academic excellence, research and diversity are three near-term goals.

“I want to make the University of South Carolina a place where top scholars want to come, where they want to stay in, contribute to see the reputation of our university and programs continue to rise.” Caslen said selecting a provost, or senior administrative officer, will be key to this effort.

USC is already known for having a large-scale research enterprise. According to its website, the Carnegie Foundation has designated it an institution of highest research activity. Research conducted by USC faculty aim to tackle global issues surrounding health care, environment, alternative energy sources, and the creation of advanced materials.

Caslen said, he wants to build from the strength of the University and economy of the state to go after more research dollars. He also wants to increase research opportunity for students to learn and gain work experience.

“We have a number of large domestic and international companies in the state with a significant presence. We have four large military institutions and as a university we have the number one international business program in the country.”

When it comes to diversity, Caslen has already made a significant change at the University; elevating the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to report directly to him, calling it key within the University.

“You will see diverse slates. You will see us reach out to diverse groups. You will see me become engaged on the subject and we will strive to create an inclusive environment for everyone so the university and the students and faculty can attain its fullest potential.”

Caslen’s official first day is August 1.