A growing group of College of Charleston students and alumni have begun to speak out against Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell possibly being hired as the school's next president.
Joshua Schmidt, a senior, said he and a group of 11 others have gathered more than 2,000 signatures on petitions opposing McConnell being hired to lead the school. He plans to present those petitions to the school's Board of Trustees, the group that will vote on who to hire for the college's top post.
And about 100 of the people who signed the petitions have said they plan to attend a gathering at noon Friday on the Cougar Mall, just outside Randolph Hall, where the board will be meeting Friday and Saturday, Schmidt said.
The students want the board to know that McConnell would have a polarizing effect on the college, he said. "People are very passionate about this."
The board began a four-day meeting on the downtown campus Wednesday. On Friday and Saturday it will meet with each of the three presidential finalists. It will begin deliberating on who will be the school's next leader Saturday afternoon, but it remains unclear if the board will name the new president that day.
The other two finalists are long-time Harvard University professor Jody Encarnation and University of West Florida Provost Martha Saunders.
Schmidt said he is opposed to McConnell being hired because:
McConnell's support of the Confederate battle flag flying on Statehouse grounds and engaging in Civil War re-enactments will make it more difficult for the school to recruit minority students, especially black students.
McConnell was president pro tempore of the state Senate when the college's budget was cut.
Legislators and others who support McConnell are putting pressure on college trustees to vote for McConnell, raising questions about the integrity of the search process.
Brandon Upson, a 2013 College of Charleston graduate, also is involved in the petition effort. Upson, who is black, said if McConnell is hired, minority students will say, "Oh, heck no," about enrolling at the college.
"It's a direct contradiction to the diversity plan that was adopted a few years ago," Upson said.
He also said that according to media reports, McConnell wasn't among a 15-member search committee's recommended candidates for the job. "It upsets students," Upson said. "It upsets me."
Separately, College of Charleston faculty members were polled this week to gauge their views on the three candidates. Of the 262 tenured professors, tenure-track professors and instructors who responded to the poll, and 52 visiting or adjunct professors, 83 percent said they did not find McConnell acceptable. Saunders was the leader in the survey, with a 67 percent acceptable rate, followed by Encarnation at 44 percent and McConnell at 11 percent.
While the school's board will deal with the presidential search Friday and Saturday, it dealt with the issue of academic freedom Thursday.
College leaders said they are committed to academic freedom despite the state House cutting $52,000 from the school's budget over a freshman summer reading selection.
"No legislative action can interfere with academic freedom at the College of Charleston. I don't care how much money you take away," President George Benson said during the board's Academic Affairs Committee meeting.
It was standing-room only at that committee meeting Thursday. Many people showed up wearing pink triangles in support of gay rights and in opposition to the budget cut over Alison Bechdel's gay-themed book "Fun Home" being chosen as the 2013-14 selection for The College Reads! program.
Board member Cherry Daniel said, "Faculty should not be worried about the board interfering in their textbook selections."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.