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Hundreds rally at Cistern against McConnell presidency

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) – Hundreds of College of Charleston students walked out of class Friday afternoon and marched to the Cistern in the middle of campus to protest the naming of a new president.

Organizers of the campus protests said they will continue to demonstrate on campus until the Board of Trustees takes their concerns seriously, adding "we will not allow the Board of Trustees to bury their heads in the sand and hope that this will all blow over."

Stefan Koester, one of the protest organizers, said the focus is shifting from the McConnell presidency to the Board's actions and how the president was selected.

"We're trying to shift the debate more from directly opposing McConnell and more towards the process. We are trying to direct our frustration to the Board of Trustees," he said.

Koester said the group feels that the board wasted the search committee's time and the college's money by circumventing the recommendations of the committee for their own candidate.

"We want them to be our board of trustees, not Columbia or South Carolina's board of trustees. We want them to respect what's going on here at CofC," Koester said.

A webcam mounted to the historic building overlooking the Cistern captured the rally. Reports on Twitter said the chants could be heard two blocks away.

Protesters have also pointed to the political connections between McConnell and some members of the board. According to the ethics board in the state, four of the 18 members who voted last weekend contributed more than $4,000 to McConnell in 2013.

Board chair Greg Padgett contributed the most with $2,000. Daniel Ravenel and Cherry Daniel each contributed $1,000 and John Busch contributed $250.

The protests since McConnell was named president have been almost non-stop on the campus, which has garnered students and faculty a lot of media attention locally and nationally.

Under the rallying cry of "Fight For CofC," students have marched through the campus, staged a silent sit-in outside current president George Benson's office, and most recently unfurled a banner at the women's basketball game Thursday night.

The protesters were asked to leave the game by Public Safety, but the banner was hung across the street from TD Arena.

Benson has been seen at many of the protests watching the event or talking to students. At the sit-in, he served up slices of pizza.

"We don't need political appointees. We need board members who represent us and our voice," Koester said.

The protests continue Saturday morning when members of the LGBT community on campus along with members of the faculty and student body will demand state leaders reinstate funding for the College Reads program.

The program was cut after members of the General Assembly took issue with the recommended reading for the year, a graphic novel called "Fun Home" that has won multiple literary awards. State leaders said the content could be considered pornography.

"There has been a clear call from students, faculty, and staff at both of these public universities to our state representatives asking that this discriminatory measure be stopped. These budget cuts will create a hostile environment of silence, censorship, and fear in our institutions of higher education. This is an instance of legislative bullying." Said Jenna Lyles, SONG Field Organizer.

 

Law Center calls McConnell "neo-confederate"

MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Southern Poverty Law Center is not mincing words when it comes to the College of Charleston's new president.

The national civil rights organization called Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell a "neo-confederate" in a recent article describing the events surrounding McConnell being named the College's next president.

"McConnell's interest in and promotion of Confederate history and culture have been a hallmark of his three decades in public office – and a steady source of controversy. This history is at the core of the opposition to his appointment among College of Charleston students and faculty," the article reads.

The article goes on to say McConnell defended the late Maurice Bessinger, who offered incendiary reading material about the justification for slavery alongside the barbecue in his chain of Piggy Park restaurants.

The Southern Poverty Law Center also found that McConnell had in 2007 been a guest on a radio show called the Political Cesspool, a "white nationalist" program according to the SPLC. Listen to the program here.

The school's Student Government Association also passed a vote of no confidence in the Board of Trustees. The faculty senate is expected to do the same in April. The faculty senate's version of the no confidence bill cites information leaks about the process of finding a new president, including information that McConnell was not on the list of finalists offered by the search committee.

"Several members of the Board recently made sworn statements to the legislature that are in direct contradiction to the Board's recent statement on Academic Freedom and the College's policies of creating a welcoming campus for all," the resolution reads.

The resolution also mentions the merger with the Medical University and the independence of the search firm in finding a president.

It is unclear what effect that vote could have on the process or the school.

The Board of Trustees has remained behind its selection of McConnell, releasing two statements defending McConnell's selection and calling him the best choice after weighing many factors. 

Board chairman Greg Padgett spent time with members of the student body after the vote of no confidence earlier this week, answering questions. 

McConnell has also been on campus. As 500 protesters filled an area of the Cistern, the new president was meeting quietly with members of the faculty and student body. He did not get a chance to meet with any of the protesters. 

However, the Southern Poverty Law Center summed up McConnell's political and the Board of Trustees' decision as one that is still fighting the Civil War. 


  • Greg Woods

    Email: gwoods@abcnews4.com Reporter Profile




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