In recent weeks, some of the biggest donors to the College of Charleston have become outraged activists. They’ve withdrawn their donations, resigned from significant boards, and now they’re targeting president-elect Glenn McConnell directly.
The CofC Foundation Board is a nonprofit entity that, according to their mission statement, raises money “to promote programs of education, research, student development, and faculty development for the college.” Typically, the foundation supplements the salary the president receives from the state. For instance, out-going President George Benson receives $179,000 from the state and $200,000 from the foundation. Previous president Leo Higdon’s salary was $140,000 from the state and $60,000 from the foundation. But with McConnell, the $188,000 he has been awarded by the state may be all he gets.
On Friday, the Foundation’s executive committee will discuss whether or not they will add any money to McConnell’s salary. Several Committee members are saying no. They want to use the money they would have given to the CofC president to fund diversity scholarships, not McConnell.
Foundation Board members have many of the same concerns as CofC student and faculty activists. They argue that McConnell was selected by the legislature, the puppet masters of the College’s Board of Trustees. They’re also outraged about the state’s refusal to fund the College Reads! Program because of Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home. Today, one Foundation Board member told me that the college’s Board of Trustees and the S.C. legislature are “taking too much power.” He said that this was harmful to the students, to academic freedom, and to the reputation of CofC itself.
And it doesn’t stop there. Some Foundation Board members support a student-led Change.org petition against McConnell.
The Foundation Board members also take issue with the media coverage of the CofC appointment, which has tried to soft-pedal the problems with McConnell’s appointment, the presidential search sham, and the political thuggery that brought the academically inexperienced McConnell to power.
Fortunately, the Foundation Board controls a lot of money, and their financial decisions are independent of both the Board of Trustees and the S.C. General Assembly. As a board member told me, “The legislature can tell us to put money in certain places, and we can say no.”
This is a group that’s incredibly important to CofC, and some of them are planning to take action. At Friday’s board meeting, several Foundation members will address the students’ petition as champion’s of the cause. “Every dollar that goes to McConnell’s salary could be going to a diversity scholarship, and the people on the board are very supportive of diversity scholarships right now,” one board member says. “The students want them. We all want them.”
Meanwhile, the foundation’s executive director, George Watt, recently told The Post and Courier that no large donors have expressed concerns, but that has since changed. Large donors on the board are now doing so, and these are donors who regularly give hundreds of thousands of dollars to CofC and they may not be willing to continue offering financial support. As a board member told me, “The only battle left in all of this is what, if any, money the Foundation Board is going to contribute that would otherwise go to scholarships.”
The people in power are about to stand up. It’s about time.