Colleges as Political Playthings - Pt. 3: CofC President Edition
A Potemkin search has resulted in the predictable waste of time, money and spirit.
With the integrity of a Crimean referendum and the inevitability of a Kim Jong-un re-election campaign, the College of Charleston Board of Trustees chose Glenn F. McConnell to be the school's 22nd president.
Currently serving as South Carolina's Lieutenant Governor, McConnell is widely identified as a political powerbroker, having served in the legislature since 1981 and previously spending 2001-2012 as the Senate President Pro Tempore, arguably a more powerful position than governor.
McConnell was instrumental in crafting the $900 million package of incentives that brought a Boeing plant to North Charleston, a deal that promised Boeing $1.25 in benefits for every dollar it spent on the plant.
The opposition to McConnell raised several objections, including his past advocacy for flying the confederate battle flag at the SC statehouse and his ownership of a “Confederate memorabilia store.”
But there are a number of people willing to testify to the fact that McConnell’s love for Confederate memorabilia and dressing up in period costume does not translate to a desire to restore the Confederacy, noting, for example, that he helped secure state lottery funding for South Carolina’s HBCUs.
There is a difference between a Klansman and someone who owns a store selling things to Klansmen.
Personally, I was more bothered by the fact that his experience in higher education begins and ends with his B.A. from C of C (1969) and his J.D. from USC – Columbia (1972), and the fact that one of the campus dorms is named after him. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer my leaders of colleges to have, you know, worked at a college.
More troublesome to me is that the college wasted approximately $100,000 on a Potemkin search. Once McConnell announced his intention to not seek re-election and actively pursue the C of C presidency, there was a bipartisan consensus among legislators that McConnell should and would get the gig.
But in an apparent effort to mollify concerned faculty and students, search firm AGB was retained, a fact noted in every press release, even as those same releases ignore that AGB decided McConnell didn’t have the requisite qualifications for the job.
Perhaps the search was designed to showcase that McConnell wasn’t the bogeyman so many feared, but it had the opposite effect, exposing the reality: that students and faculty have no voice in the governing of the college.
It’s pretty clear the fix was in. Those of us who think leaders of colleges should be educators are probably naïve. In the era of colleges as political playthings, maybe we need a dog of our own to wrestle the chew toy away from the legislators.
McConnell could simultaneously be an absolutely unqualified candidate and the best choice for the job.
No one is surprised, but many are some mixture of angry and disappointed. I hope McConnell and the board are at least savvy enough to come up with a salary that doesn’t look unseemly. Outgoing president P. George Benson receives $366,000 per year, $166,000 coming from the state and $200,000 from the College of Charleston Foundation.
Any amount over that for a guy who volunteered for the job is going to look gross.
I don’t envy McConnell stepping into so much hostility. The good news for him and probably the college as well is that he’ll take office in June when students are away. He’ll have to negotiate the minefield surrounding the proposed forced merger of the college with the Medical University of South Carolina. To the extent that he can persuade his former colleagues to abandon this folly and instead pursue limited and sensible partnerships between the two institutions, the choice of McConnell will prove to be a good thing for everyone.
Or he’ll be a handmaiden to the corporate and political interests that aim to turn C of C into the third-ranked research university in the state.
Either way, I take some solace in the fact that I have no voice in this debate. As lifetime non-tenure-track faculty, I've always been buffeted by forces beyond my control. It’s a position that I’m used to, even if it’s never entirely comfortable.
There’s one choice I do get to make and that’s to remain committed to the educational experience of my students for as long as the college says they want me to keep visiting. Unless they tell me otherwise, I’ll be back in the fall. So will the vast majority of the students who’ve threatened to transfer. I don’t anticipate any faculty resigning in protest.
And if McConnell manages to shake loose some manna from the legislature, he’ll not only be forgiven, but we’ll start looking for some additional buildings to put his name on.
We’re going to need a couple more parking garages if we become the University of Charleston.
I absolutely wish him well because there’s no alternative.
We’ll swallow down the betrayal because we can be bought, just like everyone else.
All the cool kids protest on Twitter now. You don't even have to get out of your pajamas.
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