During presidential hopeful Glenn McConnell’s forum for students and non-institutional staff yesterday in Stern ballroom, the atmosphere was unsurprisingly tense. Former Lt. Governor Glenn McConnell addressed the student body and answered many of the questions which students have been impatiently waiting to ask.
Even with all the controversy surrounding McConnell’s pursuit for Benson’s position, he still managed to stay true to his reputation as an eloquent and frank speaker. Despite his charm, some audience members made it clear that they did not agree in the least with what he was saying.
McConnell began his address to the student body by stating why he wanted to be president in the first place—because he loves the College of Charleston (his own alma matter). He said that the College is where he “learned how to think” and that his time here had a positive affect on his life. His speech emphasized making positive changes to the College to move us into the future. He stressed the importance of the College changing into a research university and hinted about the MUSC merger—an issue that has been greatly contested by the student body.
He also addressed funding at the College, saying that the school needs a critical change away from the current “beggar’s model.” The College depends mostly on donations for funding and should instead become a university that attracts the funding of individuals and business. He said that this could be accomplished if the College supports research and development of new technologies and new ideas. He addressed the many concerns students have about the transition to a research university, like the losing tradition or tarnishing the College’s historic image as a liberal arts school, by saying that the liberal arts traditions will remain and that this evolution of the College is the best way to ensure everything students love above their school can continue to be preserved. This of course raised some eyebrows in the crowd.
He stated that his goals were to effectively create a better budget for the school and generate more funding, which he hopes will bring down to tuition and stop the problem he dubbed “the generation of debtors.” He continued to repeat how the College was for and about the students and they are his primary concern. He also said that he believes the liberal arts are important and that college is a time to be exposed to new ideas and broaden one’s understanding of the world – all values that the college is built on – yet these values seem to contradict McConnell’s public image.
Despite his best efforts to avoid any of the controversial topics that have plagued the media coverage of his candidacy, the audience did not let him off the hook that easy. He was asked about the battle over the Confederate flag flying at the state capitol, his involvement in civil war reenactments, whether or not he would support diversity and his involvement in the decision to cut funding based on books assigned by the College Reads program.
Like a true politician, McConnell found a way to answer these hard-hitting questions without really answering them at all. While his answers attempted to calm student concerns, his position on each issue was not entirely clear. When asked about the Confederate flag, he seemed to dismiss the issue all together, saying that he did not want to rehash old arguments and instead focus on issues at hand, which offended some audience members who felt like he was sweeping their concerns under the rug. He promised to commit to diversity and he did not agree with the state’s decision to cut funding because he supports students hearing a range of perspectives on controversial issues. He used this same argument to defend his historic reenactments, which he said he celebrate history rather that the Confederacy, and believes that people should be open-minded when it comes to judging him on his opinions. His beliefs did not waiver despite a brutal line of questioning—it is very apparent that feels like growth and evolution are necessary to survive, whether or not that means a merger or not.
While the media coverage of the presidential search has focused mainly on the McConnell because he is a high profile local politician, there are still two other candidates being considered, so no one knows who CofC’s next president will be. It is clear that many members of the College community do have strong opinions about McConnell, but it is not clear yet how that will affect his chances.