Some members of the College of Charleston's presidential search committee warned that the consequences could be dire if the Board of Trustees veered from a list of recommended candidates for the school's top post.
But the board ignored the warning, and on March 22 hired Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who sources with close ties to the search have said was not among the committee's top five recommended candidates.
In a Feb. 25 letter to board Chairman Greg Padgett, Foundation Board Chairwoman Sharon Kingman and six other search committee members said that if "the politicization of this process occurs, the consequences will be far-reaching." Reputable search firms no longer will work for the college, damaging the college's ability to recruit quality faculty, staff, deans or future presidents. It also could cause "nearly every constituent group on campus" to lose confidence in the board. "That loss of trust will hurt the college for many years to come," it stated.
The letter was among the search-related documents released to The Post and Courier in response to requests under the state's Freedom of Information law. It was signed by Kingman, Lynn Cherry, Speaker of the Faculty; Otto German, assistant athletic director for compliance; Steve Swanson, chairman of the college's comprehensive campaign; Fran Welch, dean of the School of Education, Health and Human Performance; Pamela Riggs-Gelasco, chairwoman of the chemistry and biology departments; and Jordan Hensley, president of the Student Government Association.
The letter also stated that members of the 15-member search committee strongly agreed on the top five candidates that it forwarded to the Board of Trustees. There was "a big divide" between that group of five and the other five that made up the top 10 candidates, the letter stated. "Our decision was easy."
The documents also revealed that McConnell has not donated any money to the school's Foundation in the past five years.
And college spokesman Mike Robertson said that McConnell also hasn't donated through the athletics department or through the alumni affairs office, the two other campus nonprofit groups.
The foundation, however, has lost money over McConnell's hiring.
Foundation Board member William Asbill resigned his position within hours of McConnell being hired and declared he no longer would contribute to the school.
Asbill and his family have donated more than $49,000 to the foundation in the past five years, according to the documents.
The College of Charleston Foundation is a nonprofit organization that raises money and promotes education and research programs. The college's Board of Trustees is the governing body of the school.
McConnell did not respond to a voicemail message for comment Tuesday.
The Foundation Board last week voted to contribute $112,000 of McConnell's $300,000 annual salary.
Kingman also acknowledged in a March 3 email to Padgett and others that legislators were putting pressure on members of the Board of Trustees regarding the search process, but she didn't say what kind of pressure or state which presidential candidates the legislators favored.
In the email, Kingman said a reporter had called her and asked her if legislators had been pressuring Board of Trustees members. "I told her that the BOT members I know have discussed the pressure they are getting from legislators," Kingman stated. "Thank goodness she didn't ask if I thought the pressure was appropriate."
Padgett was not available for comment Tuesday. But in a prepared statement, he said the information released to the newspaper demonstrates the college's compliance with the state's Freedom of Information Act.
He also said the Board of Trustees followed a process designed to identify the best person to be the next president of the college.
"The process was clearly communicated from the beginning, and the process was entirely appropriate," he stated. "I'm confident that the process resulted in the Board of Trustees making the best decision for the future of the College of Charleston and the educational needs of our students and our state."
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.
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