College of Charleston presidential finalist responds to NAACP criticism

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published March 12, 2014

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell said he treats all people fairly, despite what the NAACP said about him during a press conference on Monday.

Leaders from the organization said McConnell, who is one of three finalists for the College of Charleston presidency, has a political career marked by “disrespect and disregard for African-Americans and other people of color.”

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell

Rev. Nelson B. Rivers III, vice president of stakeholder relations of the NAACP, said the college’s board of trustees should not and must not choose McConnell as its 22nd president.

“I should be judged by my record, not by their rhetoric,” McConnell said in response on Tuesday. “I have a record of bringing people together, not dividing them.”

If elected president, McConnell said he plans to increase diversity among students by taking some time to analyze the situation and reach out to folks in South Carolina to get ideas.

“I believe we can make some course corrections,” he said. “It’s important to have diversity. Diversity builds strength. Inclusion and tolerance, I found, our qualities that you really need to include because they give you a strong perspective.”

McConnell said he has worked to resolve problems, not just fight about them, and said the Confederate flag issue was an example.

“We heard criticism on both sides and included them in the decision making, then we moved forward,” he said.

During his career, McConnell said he has worked to help the minority members of the S.C. Senate and House by appointing them as chairs of committees and subcommittees and has stood up for programs that were important to black Americans. He cited being chairman of the African American History Monument Commission as an example of his background in diversity.

“I wanted the State House grounds to speak to all citizens. There was nothing at the time that spoke to the struggle of civil rights,” McConnell said.

He also said he had a wonderful working relationship with Lillian “Bunny” Woods Jones, who is black and retired from McConnell’s Senate president pro tempore staff in 2010.

“I never asked her party affiliation. We just worked well together,” he said. “She will tell you I ran a bipartisan staff in the Senate judiciary committee.”

McConnell was a strong supporter of a request made by former Sen. Robert Ford to provide S.C. Lottery funds to predominantly black colleges. Ford, who is black, said he and two other senators asked McConnell to support giving $650,000 annually to five private institutions.

“As a result, Allen, Benedict, Claflin, Morris and Voorhees College have received over $60 million of S.C. State Education Lottery funds,” Ford said in a statement. “Glenn McConnell went above and beyond his call of duty to accomplish this noble deed.”

Ford went on to say that McConnell is someone he could always rely on and that he always expected nothing less than the whole truth.

“Our lieutenant governor is a man of honor and integrity,” Ford, who met McConnell in 1993, said. “On issues of keen and paramount important to African-Americans, Senator, President Pro Tem and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman McConnell always had our backs. When I sought his support, he always gave me his honest opinion and offered his support.”

“We’re not going to take the bait to open up old wounds. We’ve moved on,” McConnell said about the NAACP’s comments. “My record has been about bringing this state together and moving forward, and that’s what I hope to do at the College of Charleston. Bringing people together and reaching a consensus, that’s how you solve problems.”

If elected, McConnell said he would protect CofC’s liberal arts core and acknowledged that a research university has to grow in Charleston. He suggested there’s a quicker way to create what local businesses need rather than waiting for the proposed merger with the Medical University of South Carolina to occur.

“They’re going to be debating that merger for a year or two. It’s not going away,” McConnell said. “The best way is to shape the future; don’t get shaped by it.”

He said he’d reach out to the faculty and board of trustees to build a consensus on how to move forward, but the college must adapt to changes. He would push for more opportunities to engage in research activities and for the creation of more advanced study options. He’d then consider collaborating with MUSC if necessary.

“One of the most pressing things before the college is this looming issue of the merger. I’m the one with the connections,” he said. “On day one, I know the culture of the college, the community, the politics of this state. I know who to go to and where to go. I’m the one with the skills set to give the college the tools it needs to take advantage of the opportunities that may come in the future.”

McConnell said he’d be active in rebuilding the higher education funding model, which he said is not sustainable.

“To keep hiking tuition and cutting back on state funds, which makes the students more in debt, does not work,” he said. “I hope to be a part of reigniting support for higher education.”

On Thursday, McConnell will be at the college to answer questions about the presidency. He doesn’t expect any political rallies related to the NAACP meeting, but he believes he is receiving more scrutiny than the other two finalists.

“I don’t know if I’m being targeted because I’m highly profiled as the lieutenant governor. But they must think I’m the one to beat,” he said. “None of us know for sure because we don’t know until the board takes a vote.”

If McConnell is not named CofC’s president, he has no firm plans in place for the future. He said he’ll be a free agent and will look at what other options are available if the time comes.

The other two finalists are also scheduled to visit CofC this week. Dennis “Jody” Encarnation will meet with faculty, staff, students and the community today, and Martha Saunders will have sessions of her own on Friday.

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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