If its goal was to avoid criticism from the chorus of right-wingers who regularly complain about supposed liberal bias at institutions of higher learning, then South Carolina’s College of Charleston chose wisely when it selected Glenn McConnell as its next president.
From any other perspective, it is hard to fathom why the board of trustees chose the Civil War reenactor — who prefers the term “War Between the States” and once decried a proposal to remove the Confederate flag from South Carolina’s Capitol dome as “cultural genocide” — as the college’s next leader.
McConnell, who once owned a Confederate memorabilia store and who made headlines in 2010 when he was photographed in a Confederate uniform with two African Americans dressed as slaves, told The New York Times in April that he wanted to be judged “by my record.”
He might want to think twice about that. The prominent Republican, who served in South Carolina’s state Senate from 1981 through 2012 and is now the state’s lieutenant governor, has never served as an academic administrator. And the “record” on which he seeks to be judged includes, among other things, his 1996 opposition to a proposal by then-Gov. David Beasley to stop flying the Confederate battle flag over the state Capitol. McConnell compared Beasley to Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who infamously adopted a doomed policy of appeasement with regard to Hitler, for reaching out to the NAACP.
In 2000, under substantial pressure from the NAACP and its allies, McConnell helped orchestrate a deal that would remove the battle flag from the Capitol and make it instead a permanent feature at the nearby Confederate Soldiers Monument. “We did what General Lee should have done at Gettysburg. We flanked on them,” McConnell later gloated, and “put the NAACP in a position they cannot sell, which is to remove it totally from the grounds.”
Then-State Sen. McConnell was still bragging about his ostensible victory in 2007, when he appeared on “The Political Cesspool,” a white nationalist radio show that has featured the likes of neo-Nazi David Duke, the former national leader of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. Discussing the flag controversy with host James Edwards, McConnell accused the NAACP of “fanning the flames of intolerance” in a way that “threatens to unravel the fabric of mutual respect and to divide our state for decades to come.”
McConnell knows something about divisiveness. In 2002, he came to the defense of Maurice Bessinger, the owner of South Carolina’s Piggie Park barbecue chain, who had come under attack for displaying the Confederate flag and selling racist tracts at his restaurants, including a pamphlet titled “The Biblical Justification for Slavery.” When South Carolina’s only Fortune 500 company, electric and gas giant SCANA, forbade employees from parking company trucks at Piggie Park, McConnell accused the company of discrimination and threatened to take legislative action against it. And he began selling the racist restaurateur’s line of sauces in his Confederate memorabilia store.
The college’s presidential search committee recommended against McConnell’s appointment, and both the student government and faculty senate delivered the board of trustees a vote of no confidence, but at press time, the board showed no sign of reconsidering its decision. Though McConnell vowed to “disprove the naysayers,” College of Charleston student Matthew Rabon took a dim view of his appointment. “I can’t say that it’s a death knell for this school, but it can’t be good,” Rabon told The New York Times. “We were on a path to success … and now that is in peril.”