So College of Charleston President George Benson has stepped in it.


Diane Knich reported this week that the college's Faculty Senate overwhelmingly -- and quite publicly -- criticized its fearless leader for monkeying with the tenure process, even though it is his right.

The problem, as it has been at the college so often of late, is the appearance.

Professor Deborah McGee was recently denied tenure -- something that protects senior faculty from dismissal without just cause -- by a faculty advisory committee. Although the decision was under appeal, Benson stepped in and overturned the denial because, as he said, he had received new information.

A lot of people at the college assumed he received this new information from Brian McGee, his chief of staff, who is Deborah McGee's husband. So Benson didn't do himself or the McGees any favors.

More blunders

No matter if Benson had a good reason to step in, it just looks bad.

As political science professor Claire Curtis noted, it looks as if Benson "doesn't care about the appearance of impropriety."

Privately, the faculty and staff are even more blunt. They say Benson is out-of-touch, so hands-off that he couldn't name a dozen members of the faculty.

They say it shows poor judgment to talk about multi-million-dollar building projects while the woefully underpaid administrative staff hasn't received raises in three years -- but he's spent $200,000 on a speech writer and chief of staff.

The tenure thing wasn't even the biggest stumble of the week. Benson gave full scholarships to the children of a family featured on ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." It was a controversial move among faculty members who want scholarships to attract more academic stars and increase diversity in the student body.

Benson said it would be worth millions in publicity for him and the college to be featured on the show.

But when it aired Sunday, ABC left Benson and the College of Charleston on the cutting room floor -- on the hook for the scholarships, but with no advertising value to show for it. Ouch.

A bad run

The College of Charleston is a good school with a great faculty, and has enjoyed a largely positive reputation.

So some staffers are a little upset about these public relations blunders, such as increasing tuition nearly 15 percent during a recession -- ignoring the state's "request" not to do so, and later questions about it.

C of C became the poster child in a fiasco that left state lawmakers, who have slashed higher education funding in recent years, looking like the good guys.

For a guy with a staff full of communications experts, this is a terrible run of public relations.

Even Deborah McGee sided with the Faculty Senate and supported the resolution condemning Benson. Instead of granting her tenure, perhaps Benson should have hired McGee as a public relations adviser.

She gets it, and he apparently doesn't.