ALJASSAR: Questionable ideals
The College of Charleston Board of Trustees should not have selected Glenn McConnell as their president
In 2012, College of Charleston trustees drafted the Diversity Strategic Plan, a five-year initiative to recruit minority students, diversify the college’s faculty and create an inclusive environment. Outsiders have praised the predominantly white institution for its efforts to overcome its disturbing racial legacy. It was only fifty years ago when the college purchased local houses to prevent blacks from living nearby. Vestiges of such racism persist, culturally and institutionally, but at least the college recognizes the problem and has formulated practicable solutions. We’re making progress here in the 21st century.
Except for the fact that South Carolina Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell is set to be the public school’s next president.
In spite of significant protest from students and faculty, College of Charleston trustees have defended McConnell’s recent election to the college’s presidency. “We believe that Glenn McConnell is the best person to lead the College of Charleston,” said chair of the Board of Trustees Greg Padgett. Detractors of the decision have pointed to McConnell’s polemical comments on Confederate history as the basis for their opposition.
A member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, McConnell appeared on ABC News’ Nightline in 1999 and said, of the Confederate flag: “I see honor, courage, valor… I don’t see black and white. I don’t see racism.” The following year, then-Senator McConnell successfully fought to have the flag in front of the State House, the building housing the South Carolina government. McConnell dismissed suggestions to display the Confederate flag in sealed cases, maintaining that “encasement represents entombment” and that he wanted “no part in symbolically burying the Confederate banner.” McConnell’s guest appearances on “The Political Cesspool,” a white nationalist radio show, further call into question his convictions.
It’s impossible to separate ideals about honor, courage, and valor from the associations of racism that surround the Confederate flag. There’s no denying that the Confederacy was a government rooted in the preservation of slavery, despite the ongoing revisionist history effort. Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens said, in his Cornerstone Address: “Our new government is founded upon…the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.” Given McConnell’s attachment to the Confederate flag — a heinous reminder of human slavery — and strong resistance from the College of Charleston community, the Board must consider rescinding its offer to McConnell.
The Board’s selection of McConnell reopens the wounds that the college has worked to heal. It’s the death knell for the college’s growing efforts to attract prospective minority students, damning any expectation of approaching the diversity of its peer schools.
Political views aside, McConnell carries no higher education experience or academic credentials. Per a research report the college released to press regarding its three presidential finalists, lack of experience in higher education presented a chief concern to college faculty.
Supporters of McConnell cited his political connections with the South Carolina state legislature as strengths for his candidacy. Political connections do not make up for a lack of academic experience. As one volunteer leader who met with McConnell and other finalists observed, “the academic community is a unique organism; I do not think one can lead faculty and staff without that experience.” Revolving door politics should not spill into higher education. The role of a university president demands an awareness of the machinery of academia that McConnell does not possess. He is neither an educator nor an academic administrator. It’s understandable that college faculty members have resisted the trustees’ selection.
The reputation of the College of Charleston as a public institution increasingly committed to creating a welcoming community is at stake. The Board must lend its ears to the large contingent of students and faculty members who oppose the leadership of a neo-Confederate politician.
Nazar Aljassar is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.