[Originally published in the Post and Courier and reprinted here with the author’s permission.]
by Steve Bailey
Imagine that if within days of the news that Glenn (Jeb) McConnell was stepping down after four glorious years as president of the College of Charleston that the trustees announced they were embarking on a national search for his replacement — and that no men need apply.
Imagine the outrage. Old white guy legislators in Columbia would be tripping over themselves to cut the college’s state funding — all 9 percent of the budget. The College of Charleston’s search for a new president would have been national news. Fox, Rush and Breitbart would be on fire.
And top women across academia would be applying to lead the College of Charleston, knowing they were not going to be “McConnelled” at the last minute by another Good Ole Boy brought in by his Good Ole Boy pals.
Is it not time? The College of Charleston, which proudly calls itself the oldest educational institution south of Virginia, was founded in 1770 and has had 22 presidents, all white men. Combined, C of C, the University of South Carolina, Clemson and the Citadel have been around for 744 years. They have had 85 presidents — all white men. And zero women.
Colleges everywhere are under pressure as the pool of high-school graduates shrinks and the cost of education rises. At the College of Charleston, full-time enrollment declined slightly on McConnell’s watch as did the number of out-of-state students who pay the highest tuition. Minority enrollment rose from 16.9 percent to 20.4 percent, but African Americans continue to be woefully underrepresented, a problem not unique to C of C.
The College of Charleston has seen a revolving door at the top. Average tenure for the last three presidents: five years. Harris Pastides has led USC for 10 years. Lt. Gen. John Rosa just finished up 12 years at The Citadel.
The next College of Charleston president needs 10 years to execute her vision. While the next president doesn’t have to come from academia — Ted Stern, who rescued the school from financial ruin, was a retired naval officer — experience is a big plus, and the faculty has made that clear. The new president needs to be a leader, a communicator, a presence on campus and be able to raise lots of dough.
In a region where the economy is driven by tourists from away, the port, and global makers of cars and planes, being a local should be well down the list. No more local pols.
Academia is awash in talented, experienced women who can be the College of Charleston’s next transformational leader. If the college’s search firm can’t turn up a half-dozen top women candidates, send it back until it does. Consider: 64 percent of the college’s students — otherwise known as customers — are women.
It takes no imagination to look ahead to 2020 when the college will be marking its 250th anniversary. Gone will be a president whose embrace of the past tainted his tenure at the start. In his place could be the first woman to head any of the state’s major universities — a clear marker of change and a competitive advantage the college can sorely use.
The board of trustees meets Thursday to whittle down its final list of five to three. If now is not the moment to put a woman in the president’s house on Glebe Street, when will it be?
Steve Bailey writes for the Commentary page. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sjbailey1060.