When Glenn McConnell was first mentioned as a candidate for the president of the College of Charleston, the faculty and students at the school took notice. But when he was named as one of the finalists, there was almost immediate outrage, with some faculty and students noting that a university with McConnell at the helm was a university that no longer represented them.
Since then, a number of faculty have told me that they're considering finding jobs elsewhere. Darryl Phillips, professor of classics and former speaker of CofC's Faculty Senate, told me that he's leaving after 16 years here. "This has been a good year to take stock of what it means to be openly gay in South Carolina," he says. "With the recent actions of the College of Charleston's Board of Trustees and our state legislature, my partner and I didn't have to think about it very hard." Starting this fall, he'll be a faculty member in Connecticut, a state where he and his partner of 20 years will receive the same rights and protections as everyone else. He adds, "Had the climate been different here, I wouldn't have been looking for another position. As it stands now, I think that things at the College of Charleston are going to get even worse before they start to get better."
Some of my colleagues have told me that although they doubt they'll be able to leave, they'll never let their children attend college here.
In the spring, faculty and student surveys showed overwhelming opposition to a McConnell presidency. But despite this resistance, the Board of Trustees hired him. And now he's on the job. Given those facts, I wanted to know if anything might give my fellow faculty members hope. Can McConnell do anything that would alleviate some of their fears and that might keep CofC from continuing to be a national laughingstock? Many faculty told me that there was no way they could be hopeful. So I moved beyond the practical and asked, "In your dream world, how could McConnell change your mind?" Some had answers, others did not.
I've considered my own dream world. For months I've publicly identified McConnell as a white supremacist, neo-Confederate, homophobic sexist. Is there a way he could change my mind about him? What would it take for me not to feel that this is an institution on the decline and, more importantly, a place where LGBTQ individuals and people of color feel threatened? I'd need to see a radical change.
When McConnell brags about his support — albeit minimal — in the African-American community or defends his participation in Confederate reenactments, he's saying that his opinion is the only one that matters and that all other criticism is ridiculous. What I need is for him to become a student — someone who acknowledges how little he knows, someone who is eager to learn.
This would mean meeting with people who feel frightened or offended by his leadership, people who've felt threatened this spring by the homophobia, racism, and sexism of our state leaders. These meetings wouldn't be about McConnell voicing his opinion. He would keep his mouth shut. He would be there to listen. What do the minorities and the LGBTQ community need? What would make CofC a better space for these individuals and for the state? And not just a better space — what would make the college fit in line with the best practices of universities nationwide, ones that welcome a diversity of people?
Then he has to take another crucial step: He needs to do what these groups have said. He has to explicitly and unequivocally make our campus a welcoming place for LGBTQ people. He has to dramatically change our funding and structures so that our campus openly and effectively welcomes people with different sexualities and gender identities, people of different races and ethnicities, people with disabilities. He needs to make this a campus with health benefits for gay and lesbian couples. Hell, he even needs to make the administration more diverse — hello, bunch of white guys.
And perhaps most importantly, he needs to be a public voice — locally and nationally — condemning our legislature for their dismissal of the human rights of so many in this state. When the men and women of the General Assembly say that LGBTQ-themed books like Fun Home are pornographic, he needs to defend the school and scold legislators. In order to be a president I can believe in, McConnell needs to recognize that his top priority is making the College of Charleston a place where my students won't come to me and tell me that they're afraid the administration is transforming the campus into a school that is as threatening to minorities and the LGBTQ community as the rest of South Carolina is.
Come on, Glenn McConnell, change my expectations. Make CofC the kind of place where I'd be proud to work.