Reactions to Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell being hired as the next president of the College of Charleston run the gamut from elation to outrage.
While some state higher education and government leaders said the board definitely made the right choice for the college and the state, a group of about 200 students Monday protested against the Board of Trustees' decision to hire McConnell. Many faculty members wore black clothing to show support for them.
The board voted Saturday to hire McConnell from among three finalists for the school's top post, despite strong opposition from faculty members, some students and the local, state and national branches of the NAACP.
College of Charleston spokesman Mike Robertson said college leaders now are ironing out the details of McConnell's contract. He doesn't know when the contract will be completed and signed.
McConnell, 66, said he started meeting with members of the campus community and doing background research Monday, even though he won't officially start the job until July 1 at the earliest.
"I want everybody to get to know me," he said. "Some of these people who are complaining have never met me."
For now, he said, he'll work as lieutenant governor, which is part-time, and use the rest of his time to get up to speed at the college. He's not yet sure specifically how he will make the transition from one job to the other, or how long he will hold the lieutenant governor's office.
McConnell said that when he was on campus Monday meeting with administrators, he learned students wanted to meet with him. So he met with three of them.
"They were great meetings with great dialogue," he said. He told those students that he was treated well by Ted Stern, who was president when McConnell was enrolled at the college. He plans to treat students "with respect and inclusion," the way Stern treated him.
McConnell also said he plans to work quickly to increase diversity by bringing in more money for scholarships for minority students, and by creating a network with high school guidance counselors to steer more minority students to the college.
University leaders speak
Fred Carter, president of Francis Marion University in Florence, said he thinks McConnell will do a marvelous job as a college president. "He's a man of impeccable integrity," Carter said. "He will bring an enormous amount of political acumen to the job."
Carter said that he has worked with McConnell in various roles over the past 25 years. He also said that when he was a professor at the College of Charleston in the 1980s, McConnell brought a great deal of financial support to the school.
University of South Carolina President Harris Pastides said he wasn't involved in the search process and can't comment on the board's selection. But he looks forward to working with McConnell.
He thinks McConnell can work with other higher education leaders to promote fair funding for the state's college's and universities.
Pastides said he has heard about the campus controversy over McConnell being hired. "I think it will be important for him to demonstrate a listening posture in his first few days." And McConnell should appoint good deans provost and a good provost.
McConnell can overcome the opposition from students and faculty members, Pastides said, "but he needs to meet them halfway."
Charleston County Councilman Elliott Summey, a 1998 graduate of the college, said he was elated that McConnell landed the job.
The college "has been a rudderless ship for the past few years," Summey said. McConnell will work hard to forge strong relationships with state and community leaders.
Summey said he's not worried about campus opposition. "Those folks can raise Cain all they want to," he said. Students just know what they hear and what they read on the blog. They're whipped up over nothing."
Students, alumni speak out
But Stefan Koester, one of about 200 students who on Monday protested the board's decision, said he thinks McConnell being hired is "indicative of the corruption invading South Carolina politics."
And he is disappointed in the college's board for not meeting with students. "The board needs to address us personally," Koester said.
Some students, faculty members and other opponents have said McConnell isn't right choice for the school because he has no academic experience. They also worry how his support of flying the Confederate battle flag on Statehouse grounds and his participation in Civil War re-enactments will affect recruitment of black students.
College alumni also are concerned about the impact of McConnell being hired.
Michael Leitman, a 2004 graduate now living in Washington, D.C., said he thinks McConnell at the helm could diminish the value of a College of Charleston degree. He's not worried about that for himself, he said, because he has a strong work history. "But it's really a danger for current students when they get in the work world."
Leitman, who also works as volunteer recruiter for the college and its Jewish studies program, said he's heard from large donors in the Washington, D.C., and Baltimore area that they will no longer give to the college.
Board Chairman Greg Padgett cited McConnell's decades of experience as a state leader as the reason for selecting him for the job.
Padgett did not respond to calls for comment Monday.
College spokesman Mike Robertson said Padgett and McConnell plan to address students, but no date has been set.
But in a prepared statement, Padgett said the presidential search process was designed to identify the best candidate for the job. And the board considered feedback from all campus groups.
"I'm confident the board made the best decision for the future of the College of Charleston and the educational needs of our students and our state," he wrote.
In the statement, Padgett said McConnell has said one of his highest priorities is an "affordable, accessible world class education for students.
"I am sure he will work hard with all of our campus groups from Day One to keep costs low and quality high. I also am certain he will endeavor to earn the full trust of every member of our campus community, including his critics."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
College of Charleston senior Sylvie Baele, of Johns Island, reads a letter during a student protest in the Cistern on Monday written to the Board of Trustees voicing her disapproval of its choice of Glenn McConnell as president of the college.×
College of Charleston students gathered at the Cistern Yard Monday morning to protest the college’s hiring of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as its next president.×