Hey there, Gamecocks. College of Charleston graduate here.
How’re things up on the Horseshoe? Did I say that right?
Oh? You say the selection process to pick your new university president has become hopelessly political to the point where faculty, staff, the entire campus community, and even long-gone grads feel a growing sense of distrust and estrangement from campus?
I know how you feel.
It wasn’t too long ago that the specter of Glenn McConnell at the College of Charleston was relegated to a the name of a dorm and a half-built highway miles from campus.
Don’t get me wrong, those photos of then-Sen. Glenn McConnell decked out in absurd Confederate regalia or defiantly standing alongside the rebel flag were just as disgusting then as they are now. But McConnell had been a creature of the capitol longer than I’d been alive — wandering the halls off Gervais Street, not George Street. Most of us wouldn’t have known him if he walked across the Cistern (assuming he wasn’t in uniform.)
College campuses have never been sanctuaries from politics. They’ve long been breeding grounds for free speech, dissent, and debate, especially in a conservative state like South Carolina. Spoiler alert: the students don’t always agree with the politicians.
But as political maneuvers go, the selection of Glenn McConnell at the College of Charleston in 2014 felt especially tricky, even to an observer.
But then the walls started to close in. There were whispers of trustees ignoring search recommendations. Democratic and Republican politicians threw their support behind McConnell, eyeing dollars and clout. Even former Mayor Joe Riley dismissed worries over having a former Confederate apparel dealer heading up the city’s liberal arts university. A Post and Courier editorial said McConnell deserved support.
In the end, McConnell was selected. They got their man. (That highway’s still half-built though, guys.)
On Friday, it looks like the University of South Carolina will face its McConnell moment.
Update: After a judge granted an injunction putting off the July 12 meeting, the Board of Trustees is set to meet on July 19.
After a presidential search earlier this year that yielded four mostly white, mostly male finalists, and as trustees appeared ready to scrap the search and start over, Gov. Henry McMaster started making calls and forced the board to call for a vote this Friday to support his man.
McMaster supports one of the four finalists, former West Point Superintendent Robert L. Caslen, who faced criticism over comments he made that appeared to blame sexual assault on binge drinking.
Either way, if board members weren’t ready to do his bidding, McMaster was ready to call the meeting himself, according to The State.
A petition circulating this week urging a vote against Caslen cautions action taken by the board under duress, pointing to former President Harris Pastides’ productive relationship with the campus community as a model.
“It’s difficult to imagine a comparable relationship could ever be established between Mr. Caslen and the members of the university community if he is selected in this way,” a letter with the petition states.
I can’t speak to Pastides’ relationships on campus in Columbia; I’m sure he had fans and critics.
But I do know that in my frequent interactions with folks on campus in Charleston, mentions of President Glenn McConnell were often preceded, interrupted by, or concluded with eye rolls, shoulder shrugs, and resentful huffs and puffs. That was the general attitude that I witnessed on campus during his five years in office.
Some politicians are trying to call off McMaster, including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin and state Rep. Seth Rose, a former Gamecock All-American whose district includes part of campus. But is it too late?
Protests are planned. Faculty, students, and donors are pushing back against McMaster and Caslen. We’ve seen this show before.
Is the fight against the political forces behind McMaster, like McConnell, a lost cause?