University of West Florida provost Martha Saunders is the only woman on the list of four finalists for the president's post at the College of Charleston.

If hired, she would be the college's first female president.

The school's Board of Trustees officially released the names of the finalists Monday, after months of speculation on who might be the school's next leader.

The names, as first reported on, are Saunders, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, Andrew Card and Jody Encarnation.

While the names of McConnell, Card and Encarnation were leaked to the media last week, Saunders' name is new to the list.

She is the provost and a professor at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. She also is the former president of the University of Southern Mississippi and former chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. She has held various academic posts at Columbus State University and the University of West Florida.

Saunders received her bachelor's degree from Southern Miss, her master's degree from the University of Georgia and her doctoral degree from Florida State.

The college's board Friday announced that it had narrowed its list of potential finalists to five candidates. Board members planned to contact those candidates to see if they still were interested in the job before releasing the official list of finalists. During that process, one candidate dropped from the list.

The college's board now is developing a schedule for on-campus interviews with the finalists. Those visits will include time for students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members to meet and talk to the candidates.

A schedule for those visits and background information on each of the finalists will be posted on the presidential search page of the college's website.

The new president will take the reins from George Benson, who will step down in June.

Of the four candidates on the list, McConnell is the most controversial.

His selection as a finalist has caused a stir among some people on campus in recent weeks. Sources with close ties to the search have said McConnell, the former longtime state senator and president pro tempore of the Senate, was not on the list of five recommended candidates a presidential search committee forwarded to the college's board last month. That board ultimately will decide on the school's next leader.

McConnell could not be reached for comment Monday.

A member of the college's Foundation Board last week said he thinks that if the Board of Trustees veers from the search committee's recommendations, it should repay the nearly $100,000 cost of the search.

The college's Faculty Senate in September passed a resolution encouraging the board to hire someone knowledgeable and experienced in higher education, after hearing that politicians possibly were being considered for the job.

Lynn Cherry, speaker of the faculty and a member of the presidential search committee, said Monday that search committee members had signed confidentiality agreements and could not reveal details on the search process.

The Board of Trustees has the authority to veer from the search committee's list of recommended candidates, Cherry said. "But if they select candidates not originally recommended by the search committee, the faculty would appreciate the board acknowledging that and explaining why non-recommended candidates are being considered."

McConnell, 67, was elected to the state Senate in 1980 and served for 32 years, the last 11 years as president pro tem. He was one of the most powerful men in South Carolina, but state law required him in 2011 to move into the lieutenant governor's office when Ken Ard resigned after being indicted for ethics violations.

McConnell is a Charleston native who graduated from the College of Charleston in 1969 and the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1972. A dorm on the College of Charleston campus is named for him.

Card, 67, served as U.S. secretary of transportation under President George H.W. Bush and as chief of staff to former President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2006.

The Massachusetts native then served as the acting dean of the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University until 2012. He is a graduate of the University of South Carolina.

Encarnation owns the Boston-based consulting business, Dennis J. Encarnation & Associates.

The Charleston native is a 1974 graduate of the College of Charleston and currently serves on the school's Foundation Board.

Encarnation earned two master's degrees and a Ph.D. from Duke University. He then taught at Stanford University. He also taught at the Harvard Business School and Harvard's Center for Business and Government for about three decades before retiring.

The search for the school's next president has been going on since October. The college's board formed a 15-member search committee made up of trustees, foundation board members, faculty, staff, alumni, and the president of the undergraduate student government association to help screen candidates for the school's top post. The committee reviewed applications from more than 100 people who applied for the job.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.