by Paul Bowers
The minutes from a Feb. 28 meeting of the College of Charleston's Board of Trustees strongly suggest* that the board rejected the recommendations of a broad-based search committee when selecting its finalists for the position of college president.
In seeking a replacement for current president George Benson, the college enlisted the help of a search committee that included faculty and students and was assisted by a national search company that charged $100,000 to look for suitable candidates nationwide. The recently released minutes confirm anonymously sourced reports in the Post and Courier that said the board rejected the recommendations of the search committee. President-elect Glenn McConnell, who faces widespread opposition from students and faculty, was reportedly not on the search committee's list. However, this accusation has been impossible to confirm because state Freedom of Information laws only require public bodies to release the names of three finalists in employment searches.
The relevant paragraph in the meeting minutes comes shortly after the Board of Trustees went into executive session for nearly nine hours to discuss its choices (under state Freedom of Information laws, public bodies may meet privately in executive session to discuss employment matters). Coming out of the executive session, one trustee made a motion to take a preferential ballot — meaning that, instead of putting forward the five candidates recommended by the search committee, the trustees would vote and the top five vote recipients would be offered the opportunity to become finalists. Voicing his opposition to the preferential ballot motion, Trustee Jeff Schilz went on the record to say the following:
I am voting for the slate of candidates that was advanced to the Board by the Search Committee. The Search Committee consisted of a broad representation of various constituencies that are part of the CofC community. It is my belief that it is of paramount interest in this presidential search process to find a leader that will first, unite the college community, and second, enhance the reputation of the school. Because of the strong consensus for the candidates the Search Committee sent the Board of Trustees, and out of respect for their work, I am voting for those candidates."
The board went forward with the preferential ballot, and after the five candidates receiving the most votes had been announced, Trustee John Wood stated in the minutes that they did not vote in favor of the Board of Trustees' chosen slate of candidates. When the board later voted unanimously to install McConnell as president, neither Schilz nor Wood was in the room.
Earlier in the meeting minutes, Board of Trustees Chairman Greg Padgett spoke to concerns about whether the search committee's voice was being heard. The minutes state:
[Padgett] assured everyone that he and his fellow Trustees have enormous respect for the findings of the Search Committee. Those findings and recommendations are being used by the Trustees. It is the case, however, that the Board, and only the Board, is ultimately responsible for naming presidential finalists.
The City Paper initially received a copy of the meeting minutes from the protest group #FightForCofC, which had requested them from the board.
Brandon Fish, a CofC student and member of #FightForCofC, says the group debated whether to send the minutes to the press after obtaining them early this week. Ultimately, he says they voted to release the minutes because they showed an important fact about the presidential selection process. "The significance of these minutes is that they show definitively that the BOT deviated from the search committee's list of finalists," Fish says.
However, the minutes do not show definitively that the trustees rejected the search committee's recommendations. In response to Fish's assertion, CofC Chief of Staff Brian McGee sent a memo to the City Paper with the following statement:
Mr. Schilz was explaining his vote against a motion that established a specific voting procedure, which allowed trustees to vote for up to five presidential candidates, with the top five vote recipients to be offered the opportunity to become finalists. Under this voting procedure, which is customarily called a “preferential ballot,” the Board’s top five vote recipients might or might not be the same individuals who were recommended by the Presidential Search Committee, depending on the votes cast by the individual trustees.
According to a school spokesman, the members of the search committee signed confidentiality agreements promising not to reveal the names of the candidates they recommended.
*CORRECTION: This blog post originally stated that the meeting minutes showed with certainty that the Board of Trustees had deviated from the search committee's recommendations. This has not been shown definitively. We regret the error.