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Univ. of S. Carolina donor resigns from presidential search

Lou Kennedy
Meg Kinnard/AP
/
AP
FILE - Nephron Pharmaceuticals Corp. CEO Lou Kennedy speaks during the rollout of her new company, Nephron Nitrile, which Kennedy says will manufacture medical gloves as part of an effort to shore up the U.S. medical supply chain, Thursday, July 15, 2021, in West Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

A University of South Carolina donor and graduate has resigned from the school's presidential search committee citing concerns the selection process will be a repeat of 2019's controversial search.

"I got a gut feeling that the process wasn't going so great and was about to go south," said Lou Kennedy, CEO of Nephron Pharmaceuticals, based on comments made by Board of Trustees Chairman Dorn Smith, The Post and Courier reported.

The 2019 presidential search resulted in the hiring of retired West Point Superintendent Bob Caslen and was criticized as highly politicized. 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.

It led to campus protests and a sanction from accreditors based on lobbying done by Gov. Henry McMaster. The search for a new leader of the state's largest university started after Caslen resigned amid a plagiarism scandal in May. Interim President Harris Pastides, who previously served as president for 11 years, has been running the school since then.

When the search committee was holding candidate interviews last week in Atlanta, Kennedy said Smith commented that he considered her appointment to the panel a "courtesy," which she felt meant input from her and others across the university community would not be taken seriously.

In her resignation letter, Kennedy noted Smith had apologized but wrote, "When you said that my invitation to be part of the search process was a 'courtesy,' I felt as though it diminished the priorities I brought to the table. As far as I'm concerned, that is unacceptable."

Smith did not immediately respond to messages for comment left by The Post and Courier.

Kennedy, a high profile alumna of the university, has donated more than $30 million to the institution in recent years.

"People don't feel trustworthy about the way things are running," Kennedy told the newspaper. "We must have that trust in the process but the chairman must think we should all just trust him."

Kennedy said she cannot speculate on whether board members already have a candidate in mind for the position.

She also said she plans to stop making financial contributions to the university outside of women's sports.