Post and Courier
September 19, 2014

Daniel Ravenel voted off College of Charleston's board by state legislators

Posted: 04/02/2014 06:15 p.m.
Updated: 04/02/2014 06:47 p.m.
By Diane Knich By Jeremy Borden

The General Assembly voted Daniel Ravenel off the College of Charleston's Board of Trustees on Wednesday, even though he was running unopposed.

Legislators who voted to remove him said they were critical of Ravenel's wavering stance on a gay-themed freshman reading selection; the lack of time he spent face-to-face with legislators; and his leadership skills. But state Sen. Marlon Kimpson, D-Charleston, said he thinks the vote had more to do with Ravenel's lackluster support for Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the school's next president.

Ravenel, owner of an upscale Charleston real estate company, for years has been a longtime advocate for higher education in South Carolina. He has served on the college's board since 2009, is a former president of its Foundation Board and president-elect of the school's Alumni Association. He also is a former member of the S.C. Commission on Higher Education and former chair of the S.C. Higher Education Study Committee.

Ravenel ultimately voted for McConnell on March 22, when the college's board unanimously supported him as the school's next leader. But sources with ties to the board said Ravenel initially was a strong supporter of another candidate, only agreeing to vote for McConnell when it was clear he would win.

Ravenel did not respond to messages left at his office or on his cellphone Wednesday.

Legislators voted Wednesday on who next would hold open seats on the boards of the state's public colleges and universities. None of the races were contested for board seats at the College of Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina and The Citadel. That's often the case in such races. Unless a race is going to be close, challengers often drop out.

State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, called for the up-or-down vote on Ravenel's nomination. Fifty-six lawmakers voted for Ravenel and 81 voted against him.

Grooms carried around a copy of the book "Fun Home" and had flagged a particularly racy passage that depicted a sex act.

A college committee chose Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir for the 2013 freshman summer reading program. The state House, in turn, cut $52,000 from the college's budget, the cost of the program.

Members of a legislative committee that screened candidates for university boards asked those vying for seats on the College of Charleston's board what they thought of the book.

Grooms said Ravenel told the committee that he would work to terminate the reading program. But then he voted with the majority of board members in support of a resolution on academic freedom. The college had been holding back money for next year's reading program, but it agreed to release the money around the time the resolution passed.

Grooms said he thinks Ravenel misled lawmakers. "This should not be what the College of Charleston is about," Grooms said of the summer reading assignment. "I don't want it to degrade to an institution that is known for ideals and beliefs not in sync with that of South Carolina."

But Ravenel wasn't the only trustee up for re-election who spoke negatively about the book selection to legislators, then voted in favor of the resolution. Demetria Noisette Clemons and Donald Belk also made such comments.

Grooms said that he wasn't aware that Ravenel wasn't the only candidate who had spoken against the freshman reading program. But Ravenel was the one Grooms remembered.

Kimpson said he thinks Ravenel's ouster was about his opposition to McConnell. It "was the only thing driving it."

Kimpson said he thinks the decision sets a dangerous precedent. "We have boards so the individual members can reflect their opinions on major decisions," Kimpson said. "It's important to have board members who are comfortable expressing their opinions."

Grooms, a personal friend of McConnell, said his vote against Ravenel had nothing to do with McConnell.

He said he also voted against members of the University of South Carolina for their support of literature that explored homosexual topics. His vote, he said, had nothing to do with Ravenel's position on who should be president of the College of Charleston.

State Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, who voted against Ravenel, said many legislators had problems with Ravenel. "There were enough people who had individual issues where it was sort of a death of a thousand cuts."

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, is one of the House's strongest supporters of academic freedom issues. She has criticized her House colleagues for their stance on "Fun Home." But she too voted against Ravenel for reasons that she declined to comment on specifically. "You had a real live example of politics making strange bedfellows," Cobb-Hunter said of the broad coalition that opposed Ravenel.

Also Wednesday, Stanley L. Myers and Fred L. Price were elected to The Citadel's board; Joseph F. Thompson, John H. Busch, Annaliza O. Moorhead, John B. Wood, Frank M. Gadsen, Demetria N. Clemons, Henrietta U. Golding, and Donald H. Belk were elected to the College of Charleston's board. And Donald R. Johnson, James Lemon, Stanley C. Baker, Thomas L. Stephenson, Terri R. Barnes, Ragin C. Monteith, and James A. Battle were elected to the Medical University of South Carolina's board.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.