South Carolina Lieutenant Governor Glen McConnell says he can overcome the backlash that erupted after he was named the next president of the College of Charleston, a public liberal arts college. McConnell, who has been criticized for not being an academic and for his affiliation with Confederate historical causes, said time as leader of the state Senate taught him how to bring together divided constituencies. McConnell, a former student government president at the college, said students who staged a protest after his selection that was the largest in recent memory just need to get to know him. “Most of those people have never met me,” he said. ”They don’t know anything about me. They just know what somebody told them. When you operate on a misconception, then you don’t know the truth.” (McConnell did not respond to a request for an interview for the story linked to above, but reached out after it was published Wednesday.)
The student government has already taken a “no confidence” vote in the college’s trustees. The Faculty Senate is expected to take one next month. One of the concerns is that McConnell got the job through a rigged search process – he was selected despite not being one of the search committee’s finalists, according local media reports. McConnell said in a phone interview he didn’t know for sure about that.
Faculty also worry the trustees are looking to merge the college with a separate state-run medical school in Charleston. McConnell said he wants to expand the College of Charleston's research and post-graduate work to ensure that the state doesn’t force a merger. “I’m a product of a liberal arts college – the College of Charleston,” he said.
Faculty also say the board did not do enough to stick up for academic freedom after the state’s House moved to dock the college’s allowance over freshman reading material that lawmakers found to be gay-themed and therefore offensive. The book, Fun Home, is a memoir by a lesbian; it has been widely acclaimed and was recently turned into a musical. McConnell said he believes in academic freedom but would have handled the situation differently and not gotten into a tussle with House lawmakers and instead promised to take their concerns back to the faculty. But, he said, it’s not his job to tell faculty which books to assign. “Look,” he said. “I’m not qualified to tell a professor what to teach in their course.”
Many faculty members at Rutgers University at New Brunswick are upset that the university's board approved a plan to invite Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state in the administration of President George W. Bush, to be commencement speaker. Now faculty leaders are upset for a related reason: They asked for time at the next meeting of the Board of Governors to explain their opposition to Rice, and they were turned down. University officials say that they could have expressed their views at the meeting where Rice's selection was approved, but that they can't speak now. A university spokesman confirmed the decision via email, explaining it this way: "The bylaws of the Rutgers University Board of Governors set forth a process for speaking at meetings. Speakers are welcome to address any action items that are listed on the BOG agenda. The selection of Condoleezza Rice was on a previous (Feb. 4, 2014) agenda and approved by the Board of Governors."
The board of the College of Charleston on Saturday named Glenn McConnell, a career politician currently serving as lieutenant governor, as the college's next president. The choice is a controversial one. Many faculty and students have questioned McConnell's lack of a background working in academe. In his legislative career, he was a strong supporter of flying the Confederate flag on state grounds, and photos of him posing as a Confederate general in war re-enactments (with one photo in particular showing him with people playing the part of black slaves) have offended many black people in the state. The NAACP in the state urged that the board pick someone other than McConnell. He has pledged to build legislative support for the college and, in particular, its economic development role. But many at the college fear that at a time that some legislators want to turn the college into a research university, McConnell will not defend its current mission. The college has a strong reputation as a liberal arts institution.