The College of Charleston must have a great theater department, because folks over there really know how to crank up the drama.
Some professors, Foundation Board members and students are crying foul over the search for a new president. They say the process is tainted, the list of finalists needs to be thrown out, that they should just start all over.
They say the fix is in.
These folks are right about one thing - there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the college's Board of Trustees these days. But it's not coming from the good ol' boys.
It's coming from the people complaining about the search.
The problem is simple: When George Benson announced he was stepping down, the names of two potential replacements surfaced immediately: Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell and Foundation Board member Dennis "Jody" Encarnation.
Now that both are finalists, some see conspiracy.
Fair enough. Admittedly, it looks funny. But in trying to expose an alleged conspiracy, these folks have actually created their own. They have leaked confidential information, played politics with the search committee's recommendations and suggested that the Board of Trustees wasted $100,000 on the search.
Basically, they are trying to undermine the board's credibility.
What they need to do is chill and let the board do its job.
This is mostly about Glenn McConnell.
Some folks on campus don't like his politics and, frankly, they want a pure academic to lead them.
A fair number of those people want Encarnation, even though some of his colleagues on the Foundation Board - and the Board of Trustees - don't share that enthusiasm.
For both of them to end up as finalists seems fishy, the various sides argue.
Until you consider the fact that the college hired a national search consulting firm to rate more than 100 candidates. The search committee - which included representatives from the Board of Trustees, the foundation, the faculty, staff and student body - picked 10 as finalists to interview, all of them with "A" ratings from the consultants.
Both McConnell and Encarnation were on that list.
Then politics kicked in. The search committee recommended five names, but some claimed the board took only one of those suggestions and chose four others from the original list of 10 finalists. That count is not accurate - a sign of the high-stakes politics, and subterfuge, at work here - but board members say it would be inappropriate to correct the mistake, or comment at all.
Yes, that's a dig at the leaks on the search committee.
While the trustees won't criticize the search committee, it appears that the majority felt the panel was too narrowly focused on pure academicians. They evidently picked University of West Florida Provost Martha Saunders and several others who were a lot like her.
The Board of Trustees saw little diversity in the recommendations, mainly because Encarnation's supporters blocked a recommendation of McConnell, and vice versa.
So the Board of Trustees set a list of five finalists, as it has the sole responsibility to do. Of those five, one declined the offer, and the name of former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card leaked before he could also decline.
But some people on campus say the board subverted the process. Foundation Board member Hellene Rantagh said if the trustees don't follow the search committee's recommendation in total, it would be "tantamount to a mortal sin."
It's not like the board grabbed somebody off the street and made that person a finalist. The members chose purely from the list of 10 compiled by the search committee. They won't say how many of their candidates were recommended by the search panel, but it was certainly more than one.
As for the differences, people close to the board say it would be a crime - not a sin - if they failed to look at the big picture and consider the college's future needs.
You see, that's the board's job.
A clean slate?
A lot of folks believe the Legislature has pressured the board on McConnell's behalf.
In the words of an academic, it's a facile argument.
The trustees say lawmakers have made it clear who they prefer, but haven't twisted arms nearly as much as people on campus. Need proof? Half the Board of Trustees is up for reappointment this month. If lawmakers wanted to apply pressure, they would've put up alternative candidates as a threat. But almost all of them are unopposed.
At its heart, this is a battle for the soul of the college. The folks on George Street are worried about their little world. Can't blame them.
But the Board of Trustees has to see the larger picture of how the college fits into the rest of the world. And they say they have three strong candidates who can do that.
Saunders brings the academic and faculty element so many on campus want to see in a president.
But do you dismiss McConnell, a man who has basically run state government, when the college is essentially a state agency?
Do you ignore Encarnation, who has strong ties to the business community, when that is something very important to the college these days?
So they can't all teach chemistry. None of these candidates has everything - no one does. That's why any president puts together a team.
The Board of Trustees will name a new president, probably within the next month. Whoever it chooses, some folks are going to be unhappy. It is their right to gripe. But undermining the entire search because they don't like the outcome only hurts the school in the long run - it doesn't give their candidate the win.
Maybe somebody in the political science department could explain that to them.
Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org
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