Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell will assume the presidency of the College of Charleston amidst controversy over his selection. He has dealt successfully with controversy - some of it very heated - during his years in the S.C. Senate, and there is no reason he shouldn't be successful in his new role. Indeed, Mr. McConnell's record in public life says he will meet the expectations of his supporters and ultimately win over his detractors.
Although Mr. McConnell lacks the background of an academic, the College's Board of Trustees recognized that he brings other important attributes to the job. Most often cited is his connection with the legislative leadership of South Carolina. And it would be hard to underestimate its importance in a state where the Legislature still calls most of the shots. Mr. McConnell served in the state Senate for more than 30 years.
As president pro tempore of the Senate for 11 years, he was one of the most powerful politicians in South Carolina. But Mr. McConnell primarily was known, not as a power broker, but for his ability to bring senators together through compromise and conciliation.
The constant refrain among his critics during the recent selection process was that he would be a divisive choice. But that was largely based on a superficial consideration of his interest in Civil War history, and his role in bringing the Confederate flag off the Statehouse dome and out of the legislative chambers in 2000.
Simply put, bringing the flag down was a compromise. It might not have turned out to be the perfect solution - certainly the NAACP doesn't like it - but it did achieve the stated goal of moving the flag from places of sovereignty. It was relocated to an existing Confederate memorial.
Meanwhile, Sen. McConnell was instrumental in efforts to raise an African-American monument on the Statehouse grounds. Those efforts included leading fund-raising efforts for the project.
His efforts to ease racial divisions have been more than symbolic, and include his support, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, for increasing the number of black judges in South Carolina.
In discussions leading up to being named president, Mr. McConnell cited the need to attract more black students to campus. Recognizing that as a shortcoming is a signal that he will do more than just talk about correcting it when he assumes the helm of his alma mater in June. Expect him to develop a plan, take action and produce results.
As senator, Mr. McConnell demonstrated the strength of his character when he stepped down from his leadership position to assume the much weaker office of lieutenant governor, following Ken Ard's resignation in 2012. Mr. McConnell didn't want the job and could have avoided taking it by temporarily resigning his Senate position pending Mr. Ard's replacement. But Mr. McConnell did the right thing by following the line of succession mapped out in the state Constitution.
In his two years as lieutenant governor, he has made the office an unexpected force for reforms to improve the care of the state's elderly. If there is a reason to lament Mr. McConnell's decision to seek the College of Charleston job, it is that he won't be able to bring his work on behalf of the elderly to fruition. However, he will have established a strong foundation for his successor in the Office on Aging.
Mr. McConnell isn't the first former legislator to assume the role of president at the college. Former president Alex Sanders, who served in the House and Senate and as a state judge, was a highly effective advocate and administrator for the college.
Mr. McConnell can be expected to bring his own particular punch to the job given his profound knowledge of how state government works and the regard of his former colleagues.
His critics should mute their grumbling and give him a chance. They will find the lieutenant governor to be a man of honor, intelligence, experience and ability. Those are excellent qualifications to lead the College of Charleston. We have every expectation that Mr. McConnell will be up to the job.
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