Controversial Presidential Pick Says He Can Mend Fences
March 27, 2014

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.”

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