Trouble’s Brewing in the Lowcountry

Students and faculty at the College of Charleston are infuriated. They’re upset that trustees tapped Glenn McConnell, currently South Carolina’s Republican lieutenant governor, to be the college’s next president.

McConnell’s opponents say he’s a “Confederate sympathizer” (he once owned a store that sold Confederate memorabilia and has supported flying the Confederate flag at the state capitol) and a career politician with no higher education experience. Even the NAACP has chimed in, claiming that a McConnell presidency will make the College of Charleston less attractive to potential black students.

Backlash regarding the board’s selection has brought some of the college’s management and leadership issues to the forefront.

This week, the college’s Faculty Senate drafted a resolution – to be voted on in April – stating that the presidential search was a “predetermined” sham that ignored the recommendations of a search committee and an outside consulting firm.

The resolution also alleges that the board of trustees has shown a “willingness to interfere in curricular issues” and has not been up-front with the College of Charleston community about a potential merger with the Medical University of South Carolina. The resolution expressed concern about the college’s “potential re-shaping into a research university.” 

Such language may reflect a belief that McConnell and the board have a vision not shared by the College of Charleston faculty. Indeed, in an interview conducted after his appointment to the presidency, McConnell said he’d like to make the college’s liberal arts focus compatible with the needs of businesses and local communities. 

Another issue, according to the college’s Faculty Senate and student government (which has already voted no confidence in the board of trustees), is that academic freedom and faculty decision-making have been undermined by the board’s tepid defense of a controversial freshman reading program that resulted in the South Carolina legislature voting to reduce the college’s funding.

McConnell has defended himself against detractors. He dismisses those who call him a racist by stating that his interest in the Confederacy is based on his broader fascination with Civil War history. And, perhaps to answer his lack of higher education experience, he wrote in his formal presidential application that his career in politics gives him a “network” of public and private contacts that can advance the college’s various initiatives.

It looks like McConnell’s off to a rough start, yet he hasn’t served one day as president. Opposition is intense and vociferous. Will he be able to adequately allay faculty, student, and alumni concerns and fears? Or will his presidency be derailed?

Jesse Saffron — Jesse Saffron is a writer and editor for the John W. Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, a North Carolina-based think tank dedicated to improving higher education in the Tar ...

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