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Glenn McConnell

Posted: March 25, 2014 8:59 a.m.
Updated: March 26, 2014 5:00 a.m.

Camden and Kershaw County have a long history of sending many students to the College of Charleston, so there has been a great deal of interest in the recent choice of Glenn McConnell to be the school’s next president. The selection has engendered controversy, and there have been protests among students and faculty members at the school. Indeed, McConnell is not a traditional choice to head an institution of higher learning, as academics almost always prefer one of their own. And in that vein, McConnell will bring both negatives and positives to the job.

Critics have pointed to McConnell’s history as a Civil War re-enactor and his support of flying the Confederate battle flag on the grounds of the State House; they worry that such preferences could affect recruitment of black students. That’s a valid concern, as the College of Charleston has suffered declining minority enrollments in recent years and that trend needs to be reversed. Others have objected to the fact that he has no experience in the halls of academe, and indeed, one of the other finalists was a retired Harvard professor who was no doubt favored by faculty members at the school.

But McConnell also brings positives. From our point of view, moving outside academic circles to choose a leader is refreshing. After all, colleges are insular places that in many ways don’t resemble the real world, and McConnell will bring practical experience and will help mitigate the “ivory tower” image that many academics cherish but that business people and professionals don’t. Having a businesslike approach to running a college isn’t a bad thing. And, of course, college presidents’ jobs have always been political, so he certainly has experience in that field.

McConnell, a Republican who was one of the Senate’s most powerful members before becoming lieutenant governor by default,  is well regarded for fairness among members of both parties. He’s said he intends to work hard at minority recruitment, and he has already begun meeting with students and faculty members to try to assuage their apprehensions about him. It will be important for him, as an outsider -- though he’s an alumnus -- to be a good listener and, then, not to ignore what he’s heard. But it’s also important that he bring a new vision to the school outside of all the things that are important to professors. Given his long and successful experience in the General Assembly, he’s certainly capable of that and we hope the marriage will be a happy one.

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