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University of South Carolina president steps down after plagiarising commencement speech

·3-min read
University of South Carolina president Bob Caslen resigned after he was found to have plagiarized a commencement speech.  (WLTX)
University of South Carolina president Bob Caslen resigned after he was found to have plagiarized a commencement speech. (WLTX)

The president of the University of South Carolina has stepped down after he was caught plagiarising his commencement speech and mistakenly congratulating his students on graduating from “the University of California”.

Bob Caslen has resigned after he re-used parts of a speech by retired Admiral William McRaven, the Navy SEAL and commander of Special Operations Command who led the mission to kill Osama bin Laden in 2011.

During his speech on 7 May, the retired three-star general, who served as superintendent of West Point from 2013 to 2018, echoed guidance given by Admiral McRaven to graduates at the University of Texas in 2014. The admiral served as the chancellor of The University of Texas System from 2015 to 2018.

Admiral McRaven said in his now-famous speech: “Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if you take some risks, step up when the times are toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, then the next generation and the generations that follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today. And what started here will indeed have changed the world — for the better.”

In a letter, Mr Caslen wrote that he was “truly sorry” and that he 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”.

Multiple uploads of the speech by the retired four-star admiral on YouTube have been viewed more than 13 million times, with one video reaching more than 19 million views.

After General Caslen’s second blunder of his speech, mistaking South Carolina for California, prompting audible gasps from the crowd, he said: “Sorry about that, I owe you push-ups.”

In his letter to students, obtained by local TV station WIS, he wrote: “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.”

Eddie Floyd, the member of the university’s board of trustees who has served the longest, told The Post and Courier:Turns out he was probably not the right fit to run USC.”

General Caslen delivered the same speech, including the plagiarised section, during at least one subsequent graduation ceremony the next day, the paper reported.

He offered to resign over the weekend but was rebuffed by the chairman of the board, Dorn Smith. But the general called Dr Smith on Monday to say he was leaving his post.

“He just thought it was time to go, and I think that he was concerned about the support of the faculty and the students and everybody else,” Dr Smith told The Post and Courier.

“We’re disappointed with the way things worked out. I think Bob Caslen did a great job at a lot of things that he won’t get credit for. I think he handled the Covid crisis fabulously. And it’s just unfortunate that there were some missteps that were well-publicised,” Dr Smith added.

Former USC President Harris Pastides will return to his post and serve as the interim president, taking over on 14 May.

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