A group of students who met for the first time Monday with the College of Charleston's new president, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, found him cordial, inquisitive and receptive, said senior Adrian Barry.
But that doesn't mean they're backing down from their opposition of the school's Board of Trustees and how it handled the search for a new president, or state legislators for exerting influence over the trustees.
Barry, who spoke on behalf of the students who attended the meeting, said the group focused a lot on public relations issues. Some students thought some of McConnell's past statements could be construed as racist, he said. And some others were concerned about what they see as a lack of knowledge and sensitivity to issues that affect the gay community, he said.
McConnell agreed to meet with people from the Women's and Gender Studies Program to learn more about the issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students, Barry said.
Students have been protesting the college's board hiring McConnell for more than a week, They have said the board succumbed to political pressure and pushed aside other more qualified candidates to hire McConnell.
McConnell said after the meeting that it went well. Everyone agreed that the meeting was off the record, but it gave him and students a chance to share their concerns. He said there will be more meetings in the future.
McConnell hasn't yet signed an employment contract, but he likely will take over the school's top post July 1.
Former state Sen. Robert Ford arranged the meeting between the students and McConnell. Ford said he thought the meeting went well, too. "It was a nice exchange of ideas and more than 20 topics were covered," he said.
Ford said McConnell was one of his closest allies when he served in the Senate, so he arranged the meeting so students could get to know McConnell. The media was excluded from the meeting, but the press likely will be allowed to attend future sessions, Ford said.
Students have voted they have no confidence in the process by which McConnell was hired, Ford said.
"I can live with that."
But he wanted to let them know who Glenn McConnell was. "You can't get a more solid president in 2014 than Glenn McConnell."
McConnell could increase diversity on the campus and bring in more resources, Ford said. "He's connected."
And during his decades in the state Senate, McConnell championed efforts important to blacks, Ford said. For instance, he was instrumental in increasing the number of black judges in the state, and in making sure some money from the South Carolina Education Lottery was allocated to the state's historically black colleges and universities.
The latter was important, Ford said, because all but one of those five schools are private, and some of them are tied to religious institutions.
Many people said no one could get money allocated to those schools, Ford said, but McConnell found a way to do it.
The controversy over the board's selection of McConnell and the process by which was hired continues to swirl on campus.
On Tuesday, the college's Faculty Senate will vote on a resolution that states it has no confidence in the Board of Trustees.
On Wednesday, the General Assembly will vote on trustees for college and university boards. Nine seats on the college's board are up for re-election, but all nine incumbents are running unopposed. Earlier this month, trustees Joseph Thompson and John Busch had opponents. But both of those opponents dropped out of their respective races.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
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