Glenn McConnell, president-elect of College of Charleston


The trustees of the College of Charleston went for political clout over the weekend, unanimously electing Glenn McConnell to be their new president.

It was the smart move, and the best for the public college’s future, to pick the longtime parliamentary master of the State House.

Yes, he has an affinity for all things Confederate. There’s the flag, which still flies in front of the State House because of the “compromise” he and a few other senators crafted when it became inevitable that it would no longer stay up on the dome. There’s the Hunley, the raising and preservation and study of which has been a pet project of his. There’s the memorabilia shop he owned (I don’t think he owns it anymore, but I could be wrong about that). There’s the 17 or 18 re-enactor uniforms he has in his closet.

Then there’s the fact that, as the most powerful and knowledgeable defender of the Legislative State, he has resisted substantive reform for decades.

That’s the bad stuff, which is all detractors have focused on. And you can see how they would.

But those who have worked with him in the State House mostly just respect the guy — and not just because he understands how the system works better than they do. He’s a hard worker who can be relied upon to do what he says he will do. And that has benefited South Carolina, from the judicial selection reforms (keeping selection in the hands of the Legislature, but making it much more merit-based) of the ’90s to his conscientious efforts on behalf of the elderly as lieutenant governor.

He earned a huge amount of that respect with the way he gave up his Senate power to accept the lowly job of lieutenant governor when that seemed to him the most honorable course, and rather than mope in the corner, got out and took his responsibility as head of the Office on Aging (lawmakers had put a former lieutenant governor in charge of the office just to give him something to do) seriously.

Those are the kinds of factors that led a couple of young Democrats to issue glowing praise of him on Twitter in response to the news over the weekend.

  • Sen. Thomas McElveen Tweeted, “Congrats to Glenn McConnell on being named @CofC ‘s 22nd president. His statesmanship, pragmatism & steady hand will be missed in the Senate.”
  • Former Rep. Boyd Brown wrote, “Very proud of Glenn McConnell and CofC, and wish both great success. Any entity should hope to have such an honorable and fair leader.”

Brown went further, arguing with the critics in two subsequent Tweets:

  • “Some of the folks manufacturing outrage over Glenn McConnell being tapped to lead CofC have clearly never met the man…”
  • “…Sure, McConnell is an easy target if all you know about him is ‘Civil War buff/politician.’ But as a leader, he’s in a class all his own.”

I’ve spent a lot of time on the opposite side — the losing side, of course — from Glenn McConnell on important state issues. I could get pretty indignant about it. But that has generated respect, and I know what these guys are on about.

As I said, the trustees made the right call. The smart call, certainly. But near as I can tell thus far, the right one, as well.

36 thoughts on “Glenn McConnell, president-elect of College of Charleston

  1. Doug Ross

    Harris Pastides USC President:

    “Prior to joining the university’s faculty as dean of the Arnold School of Public Health, Pastides was a professor of epidemiology and chairman of the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He received his master’s in public health and his Ph.D. in epidemiology from Yale University. ”

    James P. Clements Clemson President:

    “Clemson University’s 15th president, James P. Clements, took office December 31, 2013, after serving nearly five years as president of West Virginia University. Clements holds a B.S. in Computer Science and M.S. and Ph.D. in Operations Analysis from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and an M.S. in Computer Science from Johns Hopkins University. Clements began his career as a faculty member and has risen steadily through the academic ranks to the president’s office. Prior to his appointment at WVU, Clements served as Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs, Robert W. Deutsch Distinguished Professor of Information Technology and Vice President for Economic and Community Outreach at Towson University, the second largest university in the University System of Maryland.”

    Elizabeth Davis, PhD – incoming President Furman:

    “Dr. Davis currently serves as Executive Vice President and Provost of Baylor University in Texas, where she oversees the university’s 11 schools and colleges as well as more than a dozen research centers and institutes. She is also a Professor of Accounting, and has been a member of the Baylor faculty since 1992. Her other administrative roles at Baylor include serving as Vice Provost for Financial and Academic Administration (2004-2008), Associate Dean for Undergraduate Business Programs (2003-04), and Acting Chair of the Department of Accounting and Business Law (2000-2001). She also served two years as Interim Provost (2008-2010) and, in 2012, assumed interim leadership of Baylor’s Development office while the university was searching for a new vice president.”

    Now compare those resumes to Glenn McConnell’s… which apparently begins with Confederate Enthusiast and ends with Back Room Deal Maker.

  2. Doug Ross

    “and the best for the public college’s future, ”

    Yeah.. I’m sure the best move for the future is picking a guy past retirement age with no experience at the job he was selected to fill.

    1. DanM

      An ageist comment. Just because he is past a generally considered age point for retirement has nothing to do with his ability to do the job. A college president needs to do two important things (among many other jobs): work collaboratively with diverse groups and individuals to further the cause of the institution and raise money for the institution. From what I have read about his abilities in both these areas it seems he is well qualified for the job.

  3. Brad Warthen Post author

    Yeah, probably. Nothing like a guy who has held the State House in the palm of his hand for a couple of decades. Whether they want to merge with MUSC or pursue some other course, he would probably know more about how to make it happen than either of the other finalists. Although Jody Encarnation seems to have a fairly impressive resume.

    Note that the field of finalists did NOT include former White House Chief of Staff Andy Card, a USC grad. I didn’t realize he had dropped out until after Glenn was named….

    1. Doug Ross

      So you would like to see the College of Charleston run just like the State House?

      Apparently the job is about shaking down money from people not education. My mistake.

      1. Doug Ross

        And would you have any problem with him becoming President of USC or Clemson? Do you think he could step into Harris Pastides shoes without any difficulty? Just trying to gauge your level of fandom…

      2. Jesse Pinkman

        “Apparently the job is about shaking down money from people not education.”

        As I understand the job of most college presidents, that’s exactly what the job description is.

        He ain’t going to be chemistry professor, yo.

      3. Kathryn Fenner

        Well, Doug, the president’s job is indeed about funding the institution. There are plenty of people whose job is to ensure proper education goes on, but without fundraising, tuition would go through the roof, not that it isn’t poking its head through the sunroof now. Donors want to meet the top dog, and legislatures don’t listen as well to underlings, either.

        Pastides is academically overqualified, but happens to have the people skills to do the job.

        1. Doug Ross

          I posted the resumes of the presidents of USC, Clemson, and Furman (yet to be approved). Their backgrounds are VERY different from those of Glenn McConnell.

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Harris was the right choice for USC. I’m not that familiar with the others.

            Being president of a public institution of higher learning isn’t the same as being president of the faculty senate, or even provost. Those are the people who deal with academics. A president is a front man, the public face of the institution.

            And yeah, a HUGE portion of it is fund-raising. If I were to argue for Jody Encarnation over McConnell, I’d say he might have better channels to private sources of funds, whereas McConnell’s strength would be on the public side. And since the state is providing only about a single-digit percentage of some public college’s operating funds these days, you could argue that good relations with the state are less important.

            But with recent talk about CofC changing its mission (merging with MUSC, the recent talk about it taking on the law school down there), it seems like McConnell is the guy you’d want.

          2. Doug Ross

            Ok… I give in. He’s there to raise money… and by “raise money” you mean get a larger share of tax dollars that might go somewhere else. I guess he wasn’t in a position of power to GIVE the money while in the Senate so now he’s in the position to TAKE it.

  4. Mark Stewart

    If one believes that it is not appropriate to have public agencies lobby the legislature, then it would be hard to see the elevation of McConnell to head a public college as a good thing.

    Personally, I think he is – symbolically – a horrible choice.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      Do you mean because the choice screams provincialism?

      I would say that is the biggest problem with the choice. McConnell doesn’t play well among people who don’t know him. To strangers; to people from other parts of the world, he would come across as the negative stereotype of the unreconstructed white South Carolinian.

      To people who KNOW him, he’s much more than that. But maybe the fact that you have to know him is a problem — is that what you mean by “symbolically?”

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        See how easily I can switch and argue the opposing view? But seriously, there’s a downside to every decision, and that’s the downside in this case — that movers and shakers within SC get McConnell, but nobody else does. And the fact that you sort of have to be an insider to get him makes this look like a case of an important SC institution turning inward…

        1. Mark Stewart

          That and that it is yet another robust display of the legislative state of SC.

          This is baldly saying that political patronage is far more important than education. Is that really the message to convey to students – and to society as a whole? The symbolism is in-your-face; backroom dealing trumps meritocracy.

          The College of Charleston deserves better; South Carolina deserves better.

    2. Mab

      Now, if his fellow Confederates could diversify even one iota…could include generationally moneyed WASPS — sons of bankers, sons of lawyers* — in the inevitable servant class…

      …much heretofore untapped support could rally ’round this Maypole.

      *cue Elton John

  5. Kathryn Fenner

    When I google “Glenn McConnell” half of the images across the top row are of him in “uniform”….*that* symbolism

    1. susanincola

      Yeah, *that* symbolism. I see in a picture of the rally against the announcement that a lot of the protesters are black students. If you were black, how would you feel about having a president of your school whose most famous picture is him dressed as a Confederate with two “slaves”? Shoot, even if you’re not black, how does that strike you?

      1. Doug Ross

        @Susan – We don’t talk about race in South Carolina any more. Don’t you know it was all settled when the compromise to move the flag happened? That ended racism in the state. Move on. A black student who wants to attend the College of Charleston should be willing to accept that the President has a special affection for a period in South Carolina’s history when whites owned black people. No big deal.

        1. Mab

          Doug, I have an acquired appreciation of your wisdom now, and no longer think you are sane ‘plant’. But when people with still-gaping wounds are told to “Move on” — it tends to channel in them an amazingly-polar-opposite response (e.g., fight).

          Are you for peace or are ye not?

          1. Mab

            With all due respect to literary freedom, one does indeed have to imagine sanity before one can incorporate it into one’s daily life.

  6. Doug Ross

    Here’s a simple question: Is there any college outside of South Carolina that would hire Glenn McConnell today to be its president? My guess is no.

    The Presidents of USC, Clemson, Furman, Winthrop, Wofford, Limestone, Coastal Carolina, and Presbyterian all have backgrounds that are remarkably similar with extensive experience OUTSIDE South Carolina in education and education administration. All hold PhD’s and most have some experience as educators in the classroom.

    1. Kathryn Fenner

      But, Doug, he is being hired to head a university in South Carolina. He has juice here!

      1. Doug Ross

        So why wasn’t that a requirement for every other college in the state? And the only “juice” he has comes from the fruit of the taxpayer tree. Do you think his selection is going to influence more out of state private donations? Or is he just there to milk the government cow?

        1. Kathryn Fenner

          Who gets to be president of anything is a complex process. I know you, Doug, could simply assign values to what you see are the relevant skills, and hire the person with the highest score, but, perhaps unfortunately, you are not the decider!

          Things seem always to be so clear for you, so obvious. Most of us do not share this trait.

          1. Kathryn Fenner

            And for the record, I am no fan of McConnell. His obsession with the Civil War is a serious embarrassment, for one thing, and the fact that he perpetuated the oligarchy of fools that is our Legislative State is shameful.

          2. Doug Ross

            I know what I see. Every other college president in South Carolina has a background (surprise) working for colleges for decades. McConnell is the black (oops) swan. I’m not the only person who questions his credentials. Plenty of students , faculty, and alumni feel the same way.

            Seeing things for what they are isn’t difficult. It’s harder to convince yourself to ignore reality.

  7. Rose

    Wonder how he will handle the controversy over the gay-themed book? Will his buddies in the Legislature restore the money they cut because they want to control what our state colleges and universities assign to students? Does he even have a concept of what academic freedom means? Of how universities select course materials? What if he doesn’t like the books they assign on the Civil War, that actually address the very prominent role of slavery in the origins of the conflict? College presidents do a lot of fundraising, yes, but they also need to understand academic policies and procedures – sounds to me like the Provost will be actually be running the school.

  8. Harry Harris

    I think McConnell will have his work cut out for him – not just as an administrator/lobbyist, but simply proving he can run the institution. Everything he does will be questioned. He certainly rolled up his sleeves and worked at the advocacy job for the elderly as Lt Gov, but he had only light administrative duties there. Choosing him for the job seems out-of-bounds to me, but polarizing the situation seem more of a recipe for unneeded harm than for moving forward.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I think a hard thing for him will be, ironically, the political part — being accessible and approachable to faculty and students as well as to the movers and shakers.

      In my experience, he only calls back journalists — those pesky creatures — when he has a particular interest in doing so, or someone he respects more asks him to do so. On the handful of occasions that I really needed to get him on the phone, I would leave messages at all the usual places for him. Then, I would do the one thing that worked — I’d call John Courson, and ask him to ask McConnell to call me, and he would do so out of senatorial courtesy.

      Those students who have been marching against him are WAY more pesky and irritating than the typical MSM journalist. It will wear on him to listen to them…

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