By JEFFREY COLLINS, Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The University of South Carolina on Friday named a former professor and provost as its new president, turning toward a familiar person to end another problematic search for the school’s next leader.

University of Illinois Chicago Chancellor Michael Amiridis spent more than 20 years at the University of South Carolina, starting as a chemical engineering professor in 1994, rising to become provost of academic affairs for five years, then leaving for Chicago in 2015.

“This is home. We are coming home and it feels great,” Amiridis said at a news conference.

Amiridis met virtually with faculty and students on Friday morning. The Board of Trustees then met for more than two hours behind closed doors before unanimously offering Amiridis the job Friday afternoon. He will earn $900,000 a year.

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Before he was named president, Amiridis was the only finalist publicly named or discussed by the board. On Friday, after the announcement, the university released the names of two other finalists, taking advantage of a loophole in the state’s public records law.

During the morning meetings, Amiridis promised to boost diversity and improve the university’s academic rankings and online degree offerings.

After he was chosen, Amiridis sidestepped a question about what he thought of all the turmoil in the president’s office over the past two years.

“We’re looking forward to establishing trust with the students,” he said.

The selection brought an end to the university’s protracted attempts to replace Bob Caslen. The retired Army general quit after just 22 months, dogged by a plagiarism scandal and what he called the most hostile and destructive community he had ever been a part of.

Caslen called his decision to take the job — after a contentious search in 2019 during which he and other finalists were initially rejected — the worst decision in his life. “This place sucks so bad,” he wrote in an email to a fellow university president. The email was released under a public records request by The Post and Courier.

The field of candidates from which Caslen was chosen lacked diversity and wasn’t embraced by students and professors. Trustees initially agreed to reopen the search, but Gov. Henry McMaster pushed them to take a vote on Caslen.

The process to replace him hasn’t been smooth either. The university focused again on a single candidate, Purdue University Engineering Dean Mung Chian, who appeared to have the support of trustees, but Chian backed out, citing family reasons.

Amiridis is familiar with the current leadership at the university. His boss at the time he was promoted to provost was university president Harris Pastides. Pastides has spent the past eight months as interim president trying to smooth over the tumult from Caslen’s term and the presidential searches.

“The fact he knows and loves his university, knows and loves the Palmetto State, will allow him to spend the next few weeks and months preparing truly to embark on what I believe will be the greatest chapter of success, excellence and accomplishment our university has ever known,” Pastides said as he introduced Amiridis to reporters.

The new president has a number of high-level positions to fill and needs to figure out how to fix the university’s relationship with two of its biggest donors.

Businesswoman Darla Moore, for whom the university named its business school after she donated more than $75 million, said she regretted the donation after the school ignored her call to reopen the presidential search that ended with Caslen’s appointment. She also said no one reached out to her after her 89-year-old mother died.

Nephron Pharmaceuticals CEO Lou Kennedy resigned from the latest presidential search committee in November after she said Board of Trustees Chairman Dorn Smith called her appointment to the group a “courtesy.”

Kennedy said she felt that meant trustees didn’t want input from her or other outsiders, despite the their previous problems with presidential searches. Kennedy had donated more than $30 million to the school, but said future gifts would be limited to the women’s basketball program.

Follow Jeffrey Collins on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JSCollinsAP.

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