College of Charleston presidential finalists down to 4

03/03/2014 9:15 PM

03/03/2014 9:16 PM

The College of Charleston will choose from a powerful state politician, an influential Washington insider, a veteran Ivy League professor and a former college president to lead South Carolina’s third-largest college.

Trustees announced four finalists Monday. All reportedly have the backing of different factions of campus leaders, turning the presidential search into another piece of S.C. political intrigue.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, a College of Charleston alum, has the power to get whatever the school needs from the General Assembly, his supporters say. Former White House chief of staff Andrew Card, a University of South Carolina grad, would have national fundraising connections, his backers say.

Advocates say retired Harvard University professor Dennis Encarnation, another Charleston alum, would bring three decades in building business connections while at the nation’s most prestigious college. Meanwhile, former University of Southern Mississippi president Martha Saunders, who helped that school boost its enrollment and fundraising, is thought to have the backing of College of Charleston foundation leaders.

A fifth unnamed finalist withdrew, a school spokesman said.

The four finalists, whittled from a pool of more than 100 applicants, also all have shortcomings.

McConnell has no academic experience. Card has a few years’ experience at Texas A&M University under his belt. Encarnation does not list any college administrative experience in his online biographies. Saunders left Southern Mississippi in 2012 after a year of turmoil, including an athletics department deficit and an investigation that led to the school’s provost stepping down.

College of Charleston trustees did not announce a timetable for making a choice to head the college of nearly 12,000 students. Finalists will meet with students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members. Outgoing president George Benson leaves June 30.

McConnell and Encarnation are considered the favorites among the business and political leaders who want the college to become the state’s third large research university. A College of Charleston-Medical University of South Carolina plan is being debated at the State House.

Card was a late entrant into the mix, a source familiar with the search told The State.

McConnell chose to end his three-decade political career to concentrate on efforts to lead his alma mater, where a dorm is named after him. He spent a decade leading the state Senate as president pro tempore, one of the most powerful positions in state government, before becoming lieutenant governor with the resignation of Ken Ard.

Card was Transportation secretary under President George H.W. Bush and chief of staff to President George W. Bush. He perhaps is best known for whispering in the commander-in-chief’s ear during a Florida school visit that planes had struck the World Trade Center on 9/11.

He is executive director in the Texas A&M University’s provost office after serving as acting dean of the college’s Bush School of Government & Public Service. Card also applied to become USC’s president in 2008 but was not among the finalists.

Encarnation, an international business consultant, taught for three decades at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and business school. Encarnation has lived and worked in India, China, Japan, France and Latin America, according to his online biographies. He also sits on the College of Charleston’s foundation board.

Saunders was president of Southern Mississippi, her alma mater, from 2007-12. Subsequently, she left a teaching job at the school to become provost at the University of West Florida in Pensacola. She also was chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. Her online biography does not show any connections to South Carolina in her career.

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