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  • Writer's pictureDavid M. Rubin


As he prepares to justify a second full term as Governor, Henry McMaster will have to craft a fairy tale to explain his overall indecisive leadership and his bungled handling of the Covid-19 pandemic in South Carolina.

The public should already be well informed of his many mistakes on the Covid-19 front, given that this story has dominated the news for the last 19 months. But here are a few recent low-lights.

South Carolina's rate of fully vaccinated persons stands at a pathetic 47.8%. The national average is 56.5%. Throughout the pandemic McMaster has chosen not to mandate any sort of behavior, nor does he permit other institutions to fill the leadership vacuum he's created. Now and then he mouths the words that people should get vaccinated, but his heart is clearly not in it. So the result is a low vaccination rate.

Even fellow Trump acolytes Ron DeSantis in Florida and Greg Abbott in Texas have performed better than McMaster. Florida's vaccination rate is 57.8%, and Texas's is 51.6%.

Fearing to lead, McMaster has refused to mandate mask-wearing in schools and indoor locations. He has fought with local school boards that want to mandate masks in the classroom. He has gone to court to stop them, despite the traditional Republican position of respecting local control. McMaster's behavior has empowered some parents to make mask-wearing a Trumpian political issue and bully school board members about mask mandates.

McMaster's behavior is taking a toll on the state's young. In mid-September, 38 children in the state required hospitalization with the virus; 14 were in critical condition; 7 were on ventilators; and 2 were on life support.

Then we have McMaster's infamous Tweet of September 9 that he would "fight to the gates of hell" to oppose President Biden's mandate that large businesses require employees to get vaccinated or be tested regularly for the virus. McMaster is choosing to die on some pretty strange legal hills.

All of these blunders should give Democratic candidates Joe Cunningham and Mia McLeod plenty of ammunition for an assault on his record.

But there's more. McMaster's poor leadership is also evident in the current mess at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. If you didn't see it, read the stunning takedown of the University by its former President, Bob Caslen. It ran in the Post and Courier on October 3. The story, by Andy Shain and Jessica Holdman, is behind a pay wall, but it's worth hunting down.

Caslen, who resigned after a tumultuous 21-month tenure, is extremely bitter about his treatment. He was ousted in part for plagiarizing a portion of a graduation speech and for a verbal blunder in which he referred to USC as the "University of California" at a graduation ceremony. Some grads and parents were furious.

Remember, however, that it was McMaster who put Caslen in charge of the University in the first place. As a member of the "good-old-boys" Board of Trustees that runs the university, McMaster inappropriately intervened in the search to replace retiring President Harris Pastides. McMaster wanted a military man at the helm, so he dictated that Caslen, a three-star general from West Point, was his man. In a contentious 11-8 vote by the Board, McMaster got his way. And now it has all blown up in his face.

Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of higher education could have predicted this. An experienced and respected university administrator does not have the skills to become a three-star general overnight. Similarly, Caslen did not have the skills to lead what purports to be a major research university, the flagship of the state system.

I say "purports to be" because the next Governor must recognize what McMaster, the Trustees, and the Legislature do not: USC is not a well regarded institution nationally. Indeed, its standing is embarrassing.

How bad is it? In the latest Wall Street Journal/Times Higher Education College Rankings, the University of South Carolina comes in at a dismal 275th place! (The list is topped by Harvard, Stanford and MIT.)

The rankings are based on many factors, including student success in the job market; how much a university spends per student on academic resources; student engagement with the institution; and the diversity of the learning environment.

If McMaster wants to look at the rankings of competitors, he will see that the University of Georgia is 143rd; Florida State is 173rd; Clemson is 182nd (that must pain Gamecock alumni!); and tiny Wyoming is 256th. USC barely edged out LSU, which was 279th.

The only way this will change is if voters throw out McMaster and bring in a Governor who understands and values higher education for something other than a football team. McMaster's replacement must lobby the Legislature to end the practice of choosing cronies as Trustees rather than persons of stature who understand how major universities work.

McMaster can talk up economic development all he wants, but a weak public university system will undermine South Carolina's growth for generations. It already has.

McMaster won in 2018 with only 54% of the vote, a poor showing for a Republican in this state. That was before the pandemic and the mess at USC revealed what a poor leader he is.

McMaster is now as vulnerable a candidate as an unvaccinated 74 year-old at a South Dakota biker convention.

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