Over the past few days, some College of Charleston students, faculty and staff, along with others in the community, have expressed concerns about the Board of Trustees' selection of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the College's 22nd president. A primary issue raised by many critics is the belief that the comments submitted by the various constituent groups were not considered by the Board of Trustees. While I cannot speak for the entire board, I can say as one board member, and as an alumnus of the College, I did carefully consider these comments. In my opinion, the objections centered on three key themes: 1) concerns about Lt. Gov. McConnell's lack of experience in higher education; 2) concerns about his past association with the Confederate flag and Civil War re-enacting; and 3) concerns about the integrity of the presidential selection process.
Lt. Gov. McConnell's lack of higher education experience is a legitimate issue to raise, but in my opinion, his experience with higher education public policy matters helped overcome this concern. As a leader in the S.C. Senate for more than 30 years, Lt. Gov. McConnell was likely involved in every major higher education policy debate that occurred during this time period. Whether the issue was the authorization of the Endowed Chair Program, the creation of the State Lottery and the LIFE/Palmetto Fellows Scholarships, the consideration of legislation to create a Board of Regents, or appointments to the Commission on Higher Education, there is no question that Lt. Gov. McConnell has been involved in higher education issues.
And while Lt. Gov. McConnell has not worked in an academic environment, our College has a history of successful, non-traditional leaders such as Presidents Ted Stern and Alex Sanders. Moreover, many other universities across the country have had success with presidents who came to them from the political arena, such as the University of Oklahoma, Baylor and the University of California system.
Lt. Gov. McConnell's service in the Senate exhibited to me his leadership abilities. The Senate is full of individuals and groups with differing opinions and agendas. Based on feedback from references and colleagues in the General Assembly, and community and business leaders, Lt. Gov. McConnell was a master at balancing different agendas and helping groups reach compromise. He was described as an individual who took the time to understand the issues, sought the opinions of all involved, and took a leadership role in resolving the issues and moving forward. I am sure he will bring these same qualities to our campus.
The issue of Lt. Gov. McConnell's past association with the Confederate flag and Civil War re-enacting was a concern expressed by many others. From what I understand, while a senator, Lt. Gov. McConnell played a pivotal role in reaching the compromise that removed the Confederate flag from atop the Statehouse dome and placed it on the Statehouse grounds. While I understand this decision may still be controversial, I think it is important to remember that this was a decision made by the South Carolina General Assembly and not simply by then-Sen. McConnell. Whether it was successful or not, I believe the compromise was an effort to resolve the issues and move our state forward.
To me, the deeper issue is whether Lt. Gov. McConnell is a racist, as some claim. I am absolutely convinced he is not. I came to this conclusion based on the board's personal interviews with him, on responses from his references, and on comments from African-American legislative leaders who have served with him. Others have addressed Lt. Gov. McConnell's successes in the appointment of African-American judges and funding for historically black colleges and universities in South Carolina, but for me the issue is whether he will be a president who will be fair and just to all our faculty, staff and students. I am convinced he will be.
Finally, the concern of the presidential search process being faulty was raised by some constituent groups. Having taken time away from my family and business to sit through several days of meetings, and having spent many additional hours reviewing resumes and references, I can say that my time was well-spent on a solid search process. While the details of the discussions are confidential, I can assure anyone who asks that the Board of Trustees had a rigorous debate in reviewing candidates to determine who would be the best president for the College of Charleston.
As with any private corporation or college, the ultimate responsibility, and accountability, for selecting the CEO or president lies with the board of directors or the board of trustees. The decision should be based on who can best lead and serve the needs of the organization. As a board member, I look forward to being held accountable for the selection of Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the 22nd president of the College of Charleston, as I believe he will be an effective and able leader.
I challenge everyone to take the time to get to know Lt. Gov. McConnell. The individual I met through the interview process and through discussions with those closely associated with him is quite different than the one that has been portrayed by some on campus and in the media. He is a very thoughtful, respectful and able leader who has great compassion for his alma mater, the College of Charleston. Let's give our new president an opportunity to lead.
G. Lee Mikell is vice chair of the College of Charleston Board of Trustees and a 1984 graduate of the College. He has served on the board since 2004.
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