CofC may lose some funds over McConnell hire Some donors upset, could withhold gifts


The controversial decision to hire Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as the College of Charleston's next president upset some donors so much that they might stop contributing to the school.

But others say they will support the college, McConnell and the Board of Trustees' decision to hire him with both their voices and their checkbooks.

The College of Charleston Foundation last week released a list of donors, and the amount they donated within a certain range, in response to a request from The Post and Courier under the state's Freedom of Information law. The newspaper reached out to some of the larger donors to find out how the decision to hire McConnell would impact their future giving.

The newspaper also contacted some young alumni, who often make comparatively smaller contributions, and found they tend to be more bothered by McConnell's hiring, and more adamant about withholding future donations.

Private donations have become increasingly important at the state's public college and universities in recent years as state support makes up a smaller percentage of their overall budgets.

The College of Charleston Foundation had $95.9 million in total assets at the end of the 2013 fiscal year, up from $79.8 million in 2011.

The value of the school's endowment was $65.2 million in 2013, up from $55.2 million in 2011.

Billionaire philanthropist Anita Zucker said she hopes the hiring of McConnell will not affect contributions to the school. "It will have no impact for me."

Zucker, who was one of the top foundation donors in 2013, giving more than $500,000, said she has known McConnell for more than 30 years. "It think he will do a wonderful job." And, she said, skeptics will see that once they get to know him.

Michael S. Kogan, whose giving last year fell in the $25,000 to $49,999 range, said McConnell is an extraordinary man. "He loves the college."

Kogan said he's inclined to give more with McConnell at the helm, and he thinks others will too. "He has a lot of contacts."

John J. Culhane, whose 2013 contributions fell in the $50,000 to $99,000 range, said he doesn't know how McConnell's selection will impact donations.

He's taking a wait-and-see approach to future giving. He wants to know McConnell's vision for the school, he said, before he and his wife decide how to proceed. "Right now, we're not changing," he said.

But other large donors, all of whom spoke on the condition they remain anonymous, said they are concerned about donations.

One donor, who has given hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past several years, and who has left millions of dollars to the college in her will, said she will honor the commitments she already has made.

But she was upset by the presidential search process, especially the Board of Trustees' decision not to select the next president from a list of five candidates recommended by a search committee. "It was a farce," she said of the search.

She's not sure whether she will continue to give in the future. "Right now, I'm not feeling good about it."

Another donor who contributed tens of thousands of dollars in 2013 said he and his wife are discussing whether to continue donating to the college.

William Asbill, within hours of learning the board had hired McConnell, resigned from the college's Foundation Board, declaring he no longer would donate to the school. In 2013, his donations were in the $25,000 to $49,000 range.

Steve Swanson, who contributed more than $500,000 in 2013, could not be reached for comment.

But he was among seven members of the presidential search committee who sent a letter to Board of Trustees Chairman Greg Padgett warning him that if the board veered from the committee's list of recommended candidates, nearly every constituent group on campus would lose confidence in the board, which would hurt the college for many years to come.

Swanson is a board member of the School of Business, chairman of the college's comprehensive fundraising campaign and the former chairman of its foundation board.

Wes Sparkman, a 1999 graduate, said he's not surprised that a lot of people are reluctant to speak out publicly about their concerns about how McConnell's hiring will impact donations.

The city has a "don't-rock-the-boat culture," he said.

Sparkman, who's from Charleston but has been living in Atlanta for the past 12 years, said that most years, he donates between $100 and $200 to the school. But he won't give any money to the college while McConnell is president or holds a position of influence.

And many young alumni he has contact with feel the same way, said Sparkman, who is a member of the Young Alumni Association's board and a lifetime member of the Alumni Association of the College of Charleston.

He also pointed to a petition on where alumni are pledging to stop donating to the school if McConnell takes the reins as planned on July 1. So far, 224 alumni have signed the petition.

Sparkman said he's mostly bothered by McConnell's participation in Civil War re-enactments. It presents a poor image of the college when McConnell dresses as a Confederate general, he said, especially for minority students. "It's completely embarrassing," he said.

Many younger alumni agree with him, he said.

"It's a new generation."

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