The S.C. Legislature has made it clear over the last weeks and months that they run the College of Charleston and the school's Board of Trustees are under the General Assembly's control. After all, the men and women of the legislature decide who serves on the board and who doesn't.
In February, when legislators interviewed board members up for reappointment, Rep. Bill Whitmire (R-Walhalla) asked each member about Fun Home, the book chosen by a committee of faculty, staff, and students for the 2013-2014 College Reads! program. "Seems to me this selection committee kind of wants to do their own thing," Whitmire said. "They have to do what the Board of Trustees expects."
Board members almost uniformly responded as Trustee Joe Thompson did when he said, "The book was a mistake. Shouldn't have happened." Several other trustees said the selection of Fun Home was an embarrassment and suggested that the faculty shouldn't be allowed to choose their own College Reads! book again.
This week Rep. Jim Merrill told The Post and Courier that the state General Assembly had let the CofC Board of Trustees know that Glenn McConnell should be their next president. But Merrill didn't stop there. He even went as far as to say that the board had no choice but to select the legislature's pick. "We elect them and we are responsible for their actions," Merrill said. "If somebody felt pressured by that, that's unfortunate."
The board's appointment of McConnell as the college's next president is the latest piece of evidence that the legislature is in charge and the men and women of the Board of Trustees are their lapdogs. Because of this, the CofC Faculty Senate unanimously voted on Tuesday to pass a resolution of no confidence against the board, proclaiming, "Recent actions have called into question the independence of the board from outside influences." The resolution further noted that these actions "have hurt the image and brand of the college." Last week, the Student Government Association passed a similar resolution.
Of course, there are many reasons why this has all come to pass, but chief among them is the desire to turn CofC into a research university that offers doctoral degrees, if not on its own, then in a merger, err "collaboration" to use McConnell's own words, with MUSC. In fact, The State reports that McConnell is even expected to ask for legislation to create doctoral programs next session.
But what no one — not even the faculty — seems to have realized is that the faculty senate can stop these plans if they want to — legally, legitimately, and immediately. The fact of the matter is the CofC Faculty Senate must approve all new degree programs.
At Tuesday night's senate meeting I urged my fellow instructors in the faculty senate to pledge not to approve any new degree programs while McConnell is president. This is a power that the faculty has. In fact, it's probably the only large-scale power we do have. And it's something we must do.
I've spoken to faculty over the last several weeks who have told me, "I've never been more demoralized in my work at CofC," "I've seen us fall back 50 years," and "I'm so outraged that I'm exhausted." Yet many faculty aren't used to being activists. It frightens them. Some have expressed concern that such a move by the faculty will draw national media attention to the college — and yes, it will. But national attention is already here. The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, Slate, The Root, and even The New Zealand Herald are writing about us. People are paying attention, and they're paying attention because CofC's new president gives every indication of being a sexist, neo-Confederate, white supremacist, homophobe.
A number of people have said — off the record and on — that the faculty needs to wait and see. "McConnell is a good guy," they've told us. That may very well be true. I suspect many of the people who turned fire hoses on Civil Rights activists in Alabama were good guys, too, so that's not really a compelling argument. McConnell's personality doesn't have anything to do with his politics, and that isn't what's at issue here anyway.
The model for college leadership is supposed to be shared governance: the board, the administration, and the faculty all have a role to play. But at CofC, there is no shared governance. The good ol' boys in the General Assembly are calling the shots — and their lapdogs in the Board of Trustees obey their every command.
If my fellow faculty members don't recognize our power — if we attempt to wait and see what happens and decide later if we want to respond forcefully — then that's clear evidence that the General Assembly and the Board of Trustees are right. If the faculty doesn't take action instead of simply using rhetoric, then the board and the legislature can do anything they want. They'll run the college.
Recently, one faculty senator told me, "Making nice is complicity." He was right. The truth is, the faculty don't have to be complicit in this conspiracy. We have the ability to take action that will undermine the plans that the folks in power are making for CofC.
In the end, this isn't about the College of Charleston. It's about whether South Carolina public universities are going to be respected or a laughingstock. If it's up to the S.C. Legislature and the Board of Trustees, it's clearly the latter.