• Just Visiting

    A blog by John Warner, author of the story collection Tough Day for the Army, and a novel, The Funny Man, on teaching, writing and never knowing when you're going to be asked to leave.


Colleges as Political Playthings - Pt. 4: Student Protests Edition

Students at College of Charleston demand to be heard, but is anyone listening?

March 31, 2014

The College of Charleston Students have been protesting the selection of Glenn McConnell as the school’s next president. They have been marching and sitting in and walking out to register their disapproval of a search that could generously be called a sham, and ungenerously be called an unconscionable waste of time, money, and spirit.

Nothing they can say or do is going to prevent Glenn McConnell from becoming the next president of C of C, and yet, the students are still winning.

The students are winning because the collective action is forcing a conversation about diversity at the college. They are winning because they are increasing scrutiny of the process that led to the installation of McConnell. They are highlighting the cozy relationship between the Board of Trustees and the state legislature that selects them and the fact that four board members were political donors to Glenn McConnell’s campaign.

They are making the state’s politicians who supported McConnell’s candidacy out themselves as the puppeteers pulling the strings, as in the case of Rep. Jim Merrill who explained that the BoT was expected to do the politicians’ bidding in this particular case. “We elect them and we are responsible for their actions. In this instance, the College of Charleston is at a crossroads. It was incumbent upon us to make it known they had an outstanding candidate. If somebody felt pressured by that , that's unfortunate."

Democrat Leon Stavrinakis has made it clear that he sees the students and faculty -the people who attend and work at the college - as “special interests.”

"It may not be what all these special interest groups want," Stavrinakis said. "They got the right guy, and that's the most important thing."

Students don’t believe that McConnell is the right guy. Faculty don’t either, 83% of them voting “no” as to whether or not McConnell was qualified for the job. Neither did the outside search firm, which left him off their list of recommended candidates. 

There’s a couple of other sentiments from just outside the immediate community.

Some ask what students expected from a state like South Carolina, urging them to embrace a kind of cynicism/fatalism combo platter in the face of the equally cynical politicians.

Others say that it’s about time that the legislature has decided to rein in the liberals who’ve overtaken higher education in general and the College of Charleston in specific, and hope that McConnell comes in cracking the whip further.

People worry that students continuing to agitate may hurt the college’s already wounded image further, damaging recruitment, fulfilling the very prophecy that they worry McConnell’s presidency may bring about.

I see all of these things as reasons the students are winning, even though none of it will prevent McConnell from becoming president.

I believe this because the students are engaging in a process that is meaningful to them. They are practicing agency and negotiating difficult choices.

They are going to lose the fight, that is if we decide winning and losing is determined by whether or not Glenn McConnell becomes president.

But we know that these things are more complicated. I have to imagine that when Mr. McConnell takes charge he will think twice before he makes a decision that might have students with bullhorns outside his office. Mr. McConnell has already declared that when people get to know him, they will like him. Students have made it clear they will hold him to his word.

They are finding out for themselves that education is a process not a product. By doing so, they are investing in their own educations.

What more can a college ask for?

And the next time the school that they love and support is treated like a political plaything by legislators that see them as “special interests,” they can raise their voices again, and each time they do so, the price these politicians pay may become high enough that they’ll not only hear  these voices shouting, they’ll listen to what they’re saying.


The Twitter hashtag for student activism at CofC is #fightforCofC




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