Presidential politics pervasive at the College of Charleston
The College of Charleston had kind of a bad week.
The faculty invited British psychologist Adrian Raine to campus Thursday to talk about his work on the neurobiology of crime. Trouble was, Raine testified for the defense in the trial of a man convicted of murdering alumnus Peyton Tuthill in 1999.
Tuthill’s friends and family protested, and the event turned into a big stink. The college needed someone to do a little damage control.
A couple of trustees privately lamented that the train wreck probably would have been averted if Glenn McConnell was the college’s president.
And that’s the real controversy at C of C these days.
Right now there is dissension on the college’s board of trustees over the selection of a new president. The faculty and administration are at odds, and it’s hard to tell who has the upper hand.
A growing number of trustees apparently want McConnell, 65, the lieutenant governor, for the job. But they fear that others are dragging out the process to take the longtime Charleston lawmaker out of consideration.
Politics? At a college?
The college has a search committee looking for someone to replace outgoing President George Benson.
Although the trustees will have a list of candidates by February, some fear that the process already is rigged.
They believe the faculty wants an academic running the show, and they all know that McConnell’s candidacy has a limited shelf life.
See, at some point the lieutenant governor has to decide whether he’s running for re-election. If he declares, his friends say he would not quit the race, even for the presidency of his beloved alma mater. Wouldn’t be honorable.
A couple of board members have asked the Charleston County legislative delegation to step in. The delegation has considerable power among the board of trustees because, well, the General Assembly appoints them — based on the delegation’s recommendations.
“They have asked for more involvement from us,” says state Rep. Jim Merrill. “They say things are slipping out of control. They want us to give them some cover.”
Merrill and many other legislators believe the search process is taking too long, particularly when there is such a qualified candidate right here.
McConnell is a respected, influential figure in state government, which holds considerable sway over the public college; he’s a proven fundraiser; and for years he championed the school from his post in the Senate.
“Several of us in the leadership of the House believe that Glenn would be a great president for the College of Charleston,” says House Speaker Bobby Harrell. “He has the relationships in Columbia, and he has a long track record of working for the college that he would continue as president. It’s almost a no-brainer.”
So far lawmakers have refrained from stepping in, saying they don’t want to taint the search or introduce politics to the process.
Too late for that.
Hurry up and wait
College leaders don’t want to rush this.
They saw the backlash when the Charleston County Aviation Authority appointed Sen. Paul Campbell as the airport’s executive director without a national search, less than a month after Sue Stevens announced her resignation.
Board Chairman Greg Padgett says the trustees are committed to a fair and inclusive search process. A consultant has met with local stakeholders, and the board will soon advertise for the post. The application period will be open for a couple of weeks in January, and the board will get a list of candidates from the search committee by Feb. 10.
Padgett says there’s been no official talk about McConnell or anyone else as president.
“There has been no discussion of candidates because they don’t exist,” Padgett says. “We have no applications yet, so we haven’t had any of that dialogue.”
College officials are right that they would be criticized if they rushed this. But Merrill points out that the University of South Carolina blew a bunch of money on a national search and then hired a guy “10 feet down the hall.”
Lawmakers and some trustees, who won’t talk publicly, know the president’s job is more than an academic position. The president is the school’s public champion, its ambassador. Merrill says that the most successful C of C leaders in recent years — Alex Sanders and Harry Lightsey — hailed from the political world.
He’s absolutely right. The president isn’t teaching — he’s leading. Different skill set.
The board of trustees is going through with its process. Nothing wrong with that.
But a lot of people hope that this search team doesn’t overlook a strong candidate who’s right under their noses.
Reach Brian Hicks at email@example.com