On March 22, Lieutenant Governor Glenn McConnell was selected to be the next president of the College of Charleston in Charleston, S.C. The decision, made by the college’s board of trustees, has been a controversial one.
Not only have community members expressed concern about McConnell’s lack of experience when it comes to higher education, but students and faculty at the College of Charleston also take up an issue with his close ties to neo-Confederates. In addition to protests on campus and alumni threats to stop donations to the school, both the student government and the faculty senate unanimously voted that they have no confidence in the board.
Here’s what 12 College of Charleston students think about Glenn McConnell’s recent appointment:
1. Brandon Upson, class of 2013
“We are living in a never-ending episode of House of Cards. In this episode, the corrupt state legislature used the college’s board of trustees as a tool to shove Glenn McConnell down our throats. I feel as though they had the process rigged from the beginning. They are playing a devious game of politics with the future of higher education, and I’m afraid that they will destroy my alma mater in the process. But, this is not an isolated problem. State legislatures across the country have too much power over public colleges and universities even though they are making enormous cuts in funding. The board of trustees is supposed to serve the best interest of the university, not the will of the legislature.”
2. Stefan Koester, class of 2014
“If you visit our postcard-perfect campus, it would be difficult to know that troubles lurk below the surface, but the reality is that our college is being used as a barraging chip in a political deal gone bad. The state legislature has made it clear that they run the college now. First, they slashed our funding because the college assigned Fun Home, a book that explores gay and lesbian themes, then they began pushing an unwanted merger with another institution down our throats, [and] finally they pressured our board of trustees to elect a thoroughly unqualified and divisive man, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, to be our next president. The system of political cronyism and good ol’ boy politics is alive an well in South Carolina.”
3. Cara Lauria, class of 2015
“When I heard the news of our newly elected president, Glenn McConnell, I was upset and disappointed. Over and over I hear of the unjust and unethical practices in politics: corruption, cronyism, the good ol’ boys politics, all of which fester in the South Carolina legislature. It’s one thing to be frustrated with the government — isn’t everyone? — but when they begin to influence the integrity of our education and university, things get real. Fortunately, most of us at C of C do not face harsh governmental oppression, however, when the Board of Trustees elected McConnel against more than 80% of the faculty and more than a fifth of the student body, we experienced a small taste of what it means to be voiceless. Why do they ask for our opinion if they were not going to take it into consideration?”
4. Evan Reinhold, class of 2014
“I do not know McConnell, nor do I intend to suggest that I have the experience to decide who the next president of C of C should be. However, I do know that I value honesty, integrity, and compassion. The process by which McConnell was elected is one that threatens these values, and when these values are threatened, I will always stand up for them. The fact that the board of trustees is picked by state legislators makes the board’s job of protecting the college from undue political influence impossible. When your position on a board is threatened by political action, it is hard to do what is right in an honest and compassionate way.”
5. Shelly Guidera, class of 2015
“I am highly opposed to his selection. The process through which he was elected was filled with political agendas and fails to set the standard of advocating diversity for College of Charleston. The board of trustees ignored the search committee’s suggestions for presidential candidates and also failed ethically in regards to defending Fun Home and the budget cuts in the CollegeReads! program. Glenn McConnell’s appointment contributes to a Southern demographic of caucasian males in power who will shake hands with the right people, which is what this liberal arts college needs to stray away from. People flock to this school to find a home away from home, and as an LGBTQ individual I resonate with this fact. It is our purpose to protect this home, our home, and its integrity.”
6. Chris Piedmont, class of 2014
“During the interviewing process, it was evident that a significant portion of the student, faculty, and alumni population opposed Lt. Gov. McConnell as a candidate and it’s disheartening that it seems members of the board of trustees disregarded our opinions. Last week, during the Student Government Association’s deliberations on a bill expressing no confidence in the board of trustees, Chairman of the Board Greg Padgett said that from the feedback received students favored Drs. Saunders and Encarnation.
While I had hoped the board would have selected one of these two candidates because that was who students favored, I hope our school will move forward to continue educating students to prepare them for life after Charleston in a fast-changing, global economy. The College of Charleston is bigger than one issue, one book, or one president, and we must continue to work educating future generations regardless of who is at the helm.”
7. Abby Tennenbaum, class of 2014
“Initial frustration at Glenn McConnell’s history and personal habits sparked a much deeper examination into the true, larger problem: the state legislature coercively controlling our Board of Trustees, our president, and of course the silenced voices of students and faculty. But as we have learned, McConnell is not wholly to blame and neither are the Board of Trustees members, necessarily. At the root of it all is South Carolina state politics, and South Carolina is just a microcosm of the country and our nation’s political dysfunction. What has happened at the College of Charleston just happens to be (somewhat fortunately) a close-enough-to-home example of the corruption that pervades our politics nationwide.”
8. Sylvie Baele, class of 2014
“As much as the appointment of McConnell as the next president is generally despised, the silver lining is that the secretive corruption is no longer a secret. This political pressuring of government officials involved in the decision making processes regarding high educational institutions is not unique to South Carolina. Students in Washington, Missouri, California, Iowa, Illinois, and other states across the U.S. have begun to realize that the systems of power in place that are charting the courses for their schools are broken and undemocratic.
The South Carolina General Assembly in Columbia has a much different and, frankly, inaccurate perception and understanding of the College of Charleston. They see what exists on paper, in data of numbers and dollar signs, not the students and faculty of this institution, who are the ones who make it the amazing, historic liberal arts college it is. With politics as it is today, politician’s concerns revolve around political agendas and popularity contests, rather than the true desires and fair representation of constituents.”
9. Ryan Tyler Spraker, class of 2016
“During our 244 years of history, the College of Charleston has made great progress and continued to provide a stellar education to the people of Charleston, South Carolina and the United States. This year, adversity and change have presented themselves in a manner that questions the decisions of our political and institutional leaders. Some student groups have launched protest and while others have expressed excitement, but all of the students here at the college agree on one thing: The College of Charleston is not, and should never be, defined by one person. We are 10,488 students from around the world who represent a diverse pool of ideas, ethnicities, religions, and orientations. Regardless of the person in charge, I believe that the College of Charleston will remain an institution comprised of world-class scholars, artists, creators, innovators, and leaders.”
10. Brandon Fish, class of 2014
“After the long and anxious search process for a new president, it was disheartening to hear that Glenn McConnell, a local good ol’ boy politician, had managed to maneuver his way into the seat. Not only is he unqualified for the position, but his past associations with neo-Confederatism made many of my fellow students uncomfortable. The search cost our school $100,000, and ended up being a sham. Our board of trustees, already in hot water over anti-LGBTQ comments, ended up being political instruments for Glenn McConnell. Adding to this stress is the fact that our statehouse recently cut funding to the college over the inclusion of what it calls ‘gay propaganda’ in our freshman reading list. I don’t feel comfortable coming to school when fellow students of different races and sexual orientations are made to feel uncomfortable for being themselves.”
11. Camille Weaver, class of 2014
“I do not think Glenn McConnell is qualified to be the president of the College of Charleston or any college for that matter. The board of trustees disregarded the opinions and feelings of over 80% of the faculty, staff, and students when they decided to select Glenn McConnell as the next president of our college. As a student of color here at the college, and given McConnell’s history with the Confederate flag and certain comments he’s made, I am very disappointed that he was selected as the next president. I think a lot of students, mainly those of color, will feel uncomfortable with him as president. The selection process wasn’t handled in the correct way and now the College of Charleston is forced to have a president who is not qualified for the position.”
12. Adrian Barry, class of 2014
“The Lt. Governor’s selection is just the most recent in a series of ongoing insults to the college coming from the Statehouse. We need to look at this in its proper context to identify the real problem, and the real problem is the Statehouse, with the Board of Trustees as their instrument. Who they selected is almost irrelevant; it’s about the process that selected the person, not the person selected by the process. We won’t see substantive change until we see structural changes in the board and the Statehouse.”