City Watch

It Didn’t Start With McConnell — And Where Will It End?

By Kevin Fisher
Wednesday, March 26, 2014
“It was not a popular appointment on campus ...,” said Bill Moore, a professor of political science at the College of Charleston. “It was seen as a political appointment. He got the job because he was one of the good ol’ boys at the State House.”

That blistering commentary on the appointment of Lt. Governor Glenn McConnell as the next president of the College of Charleston is worth noting for one major reason: It’s not about Glenn McConnell.

No, that assessment from a faculty member was offered about the appointment of a previous College of Charleston president, Columbia’s own Alex Sanders. Say what you will about a long-time, influential politician getting a plum job as president of a state school while having no background as an academic or university administrator (and I’ll say more about that in a moment), but it didn’t start with Glenn McConnell.

The professor’s comment is taken from an otherwise fawning piece about Sanders that appeared in The New Yorker magazine in May 2002, when Sanders had stepped down from the presidency of the College of Charleston and was running for the U.S. Senate. The article, by well-known political writer Joe Klein, went on to suggest that Sanders could well take the seat held for the previous 48 years by the retiring Strom Thurmond.

As Klein wrote, “Sanders is well known and quite popular in the state. Lee Bandy, who has covered South Carolina politics for The State newspaper for thirty-six years, says that Sanders is doing surprisingly well and that the race may turn out to be a dead heat.”

Bandy died last year and isn’t here to defend himself, but I tend to doubt he predicted a cliffhanger. In any case, Lindsey Graham rolled over Sanders with a double-digit margin, 54 percent to 44 percent.

To be clear, I think both Sanders and McConnell are very smart, very capable men who were a cut above their fellow legislators (two cuts above in most cases). But neither of them was qualified to be named president of the College of Charleston.

What happened to professors with an understanding of the academic world, achievement in it and experience in university administration becoming university presidents? I guess that’s old-school, so to speak.

But should it be? Should we allow politicians with no background or qualifications for the job other than being politicians to be university presidents? I don’t think so, and it doesn’t matter whether the candidate is a beloved, storytelling Democrat (Sanders) or a controversial, Confederate-obsessed Republican (McConnell).

By the way, I think McConnell’s critics on that front miss the boat (no, not the Hunley). Along with being a master of Senate rules and parliamentary procedure, McConnell was also known during his time as that body’s chief power broker for being fair, principled and inclusive.

Further, due to his Confederate re-enactor and memorabilia dealer hobbies (his words), I expect he will make a concerted effort to assure that the College of Charleston heavily recruits minority students and provides the necessary scholarship funding and diverse campus atmosphere to retain them. While the NAACP might not like McConnell getting the job (and I’m not saying they should), they may well like what he does with it.

Of course, in the end what McConnell is there for is what Sanders was there for: Raising money through political connections. As Professor Moore went on to say in that New Yorker article: Sanders’ connections “helped get us some real financial support from the state legislature.”

Accordingly, perhaps Francis Marion University should go ahead and name The Beaz (former Gov. David Beasley) as its new president, while The Citadel could boldly go with the rehabbed T-Rav (former state treasurer and current Southern Charm star Thomas Ravenel). Clemson and S.C. State can sign up the two Jims (DeMint and Clyburn), and the University of South Carolina can just cut to the chase and appoint Steve Spurrier as the first combination Head Ball Coach/Head Egghead.

Sorry, Dr. Pastides, but that impressive academic career just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Fisher is president of Fisher Communications, a Columbia advertising and public relations firm. He is active in local issues involving the arts, conservation, business and politics.

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