Caslen, a retired Army general, was named president of the state flagship school in 2019. He had previously been superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Last week, Caslen delivered a speech to South Carolina graduates that plagiarized material from a Navy admiral’s speech at a commencement in Texas in 2014.
The South Carolina news outlet Fitsnews explored the incident in detail on Sunday, posting excerpts of Caslen’s remarks and a nearly identical passage from a speech Adm. William H. McRaven, who is now retired, gave to the University of Texas at Austin.
“Know that life is not fair and if you’re like me you’ll fail often,” Caslen said, according to the transcript. “But if you take some risks, step up when times are toughest, face down the cowardly bullies and lift up the downtrodden and never, never give up — if you do those things, the next generation and the generations to follow will live in a world far better than the one we have today.
“And what started here — today — will indeed change the world for the better.”
McRaven’s speech, a transcript shows, contained this passage:
“Know that life is not fair and that you will fail often. But if take you take some risks, step up when the times are the toughest, face down the bullies, lift up the downtrodden and never, ever give up — if you do these things, 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.”
Plagiarism is a serious academic offense at schools and universities. Caslen subsequently acknowledged and apologized for the transgression.
“I am truly sorry,” Caslen said in a statement reported Monday by South Carolina’s Post and Courier.“During my remarks in our weekend commencement ceremonies, I shared a well-known quote from Admiral William McRaven and failed to cite him as its original author and speaker.”
Caslen said he had been searching for words about “resilience in adversity" as the speech was being prepared. When the passage was “transcribed into the speech,” he said, he failed to ensure attribution.
“I take full responsibility for this oversight,” Calsen continued. “I sincerely apologize to Admiral McRaven, someone I know and respect, our graduates, their families and the entire university community for not leading by example.”
The revelation led to a confusing back and forth over Caslen’s future at the university.
News reports earlier this week disclosed that Caslen had offered his resignation but that the chairman of the board of trustees did not immediately accept it. By Wednesday, Caslen’s position had become untenable, and multiple news outlets reported that the board had accepted his resignation and named a former university president, Harris Pastides, as the school’s interim leader.
The plagiarism incident was not the only commencement embarrassment for Caslen. Video footage from a WLTX-TV report showed that he referred during a graduation ceremony to the newest alumni of the “University of California.” He picked up on the miscue after a ripple of confusion flowed through the audience. “Carolina,” he corrected himself, smiling. “Sorry about that. Woo — I owe you push-ups.”
The university has about 35,000 students at its main campus in Columbia. About 27,500 are undergraduates.
“I am sorry to those I have let down,” Caslen said in his resignation statement. “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.”