College of Charleston names McConnell president

By Ashley Barker
Published March 22, 2014

The lieutenant governor of South Carolina was chosen to become the College of Charleston’s 22nd president.

The college’s board of trustees picked Glenn McConnell today from more than 100 applicants, including University of West Florida Provost Martha Saunders and international businessman Dennis “Jody” Encarnation.

McConnell will replace current President George Benson, who announced last year that he’ll step down on June 30 to return to the classroom as a professor of decision sciences in the college’s School of Business. Benson has held a tenured faculty appointment since 2007.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell will be offered the presidency of the College of Charleston. (Photo/Ashley Barker)
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell will be offered the presidency of the College of Charleston. (Photo/Ashley Barker)

AGB Search, a national higher education search firm, assisted a 15-member presidential search committee — including trustees, foundation board members, faculty, staff, alumni and the president of the undergraduate student government association — to narrow the list of applicants to four finalists. Andrew H. Card Jr., a former White House chief of staff, was a finalist but he withdrew his name from the search.

Saunders, McConnell and Encarnation each spent five hours fielding questions from faculty, staff, students and the community during the week of March 12-14. They were also interviewed individually by the board of trustees on Friday and this morning.

McConnell, a Charleston native and former S.C. state senator, earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from CofC in 1969. He has a law degree from the University of South Carolina and previously held a private legal practice. McConnell announced in early January that he would apply for the president position instead of seeking re-election.

During his campus visit, McConnell, 66, was repeatedly required to defend issues related to racism. Faculty and staff members, along with students, questioned his stance on the Confederate flag and his participation in Civil War reenactments, as well as his relationship with the NAACP.

“The key for a president is to get the respect on the basis that their word is good, communication is correct. I’m reaching out and want to work with you,” he told faculty members. “I prefer you like me, but at least respect me that I’m trying to do the right thing.”

As president, McConnell plans to reengage the many college presidents across the state. To get the legislature’s attention, he wants the leaders to team up and speak in an active and loud voice about why higher education is important.

McConnell, who was the topic of an NAACP press conference and a handful of petitions against his presidency, would also like to increase diversity on the campus. To attract high-achieving students living in low socioeconomic areas, McConnell said high school guidance counselors and alumni needs to step up their recruitment efforts.

Faculty members have also criticized the lieutenant governor for having no academic leadership or teaching experience.

“One size does not fit all. I believe I have proven at the Senate and other places that the record I have has been about bringing people together and healing,” he said. “I don’t believe misconceptions should become impediments to the truth.”

McConnell told faculty members that CofC does not need to merge with the Medical University of South Carolina or any other institution and that it should be leading the community. Lawmakers have introduced legislation in the General Assembly to merge the two higher education institutions.

“What we have is an opportunity here at the college,” he said. “If I’m going to sit down with MUSC and talk about collaboration, I want to make sure I’m the strong deck at the table when we play the card game.”

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


Previous coverage

CRBJ readers weigh in on College of Charleston president search

College of Charleston presidential finalists answer questions on campus

 NAACP says McConnell not qualified to run college

College of Charleston presidential finalist responds to NAACP criticism

Backgrounds varied for CofC presidential finalists

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