College of Charleston Appoints Provost Over Faculty Protests

Amid growing outrage among faculty about secretive presidential searches (see here and, for an AAUP statement, here), the College of Charleston in South Carolina recently appointed a new provost over complaints from faculty who say they were not consulted in the decision-making process, the Charleston Post and Courier reports.  The position of provost, the institution’s chief academic officer, is arguably even more central to faculty concerns than that of the president.

The provost, Brian McGee, previously served as interim provost since August 2014. Before that, he worked for four years as chief of staff to then-President George Benson and spent six years as chairman of the Department of Communication.

In a news release announcing McGee’s appointment October 30, President Glenn McConnell said he had chosen McGee after consulting with deans, academic leaders and “many members of the faculty.”

“In the course of those consultations, I learned that Brian was a widely respected faculty leader,” McConnell said.

But some faculty members say the president either ignored their input or never sought it at all.  Larry Krasnoff, a philosophy professor and chair of the Faculty Advisory Committee to the President, said members of the 12-person committee repeatedly asked McConnell for updates on the provost search process and advocated for a national search during the 2014-15 academic year, when McGee was serving as interim provost.

“At first we took it for granted that there would be a search, and the only question was when it would begin,” Krasnoff said. “On each occasion, President McConnell told us that he would be making a decision about that at a certain time, and that time was then pushed back.” Krasnoff said members of his committee asked McConnell to establish “a process by which all faculty could weigh in, perhaps anonymously,” on McGee’s performance as interim provost. That never happened, he said.

Much of the faculty opposition to McGee has focused on two controversial tenure cases. In 2011, when McGee was serving as Benson’s chief of staff, some professors raised questions of impropriety after the president overturned a tenure denial for Deborah McGee, a now-associate professor in the Department of Communication who was married to Brian McGee at the time.

More recently, faculty members raised concerns in the spring of 2015 after McConnell denied tenure to Department of Communication assistant professor David Moscowitz. The decision came after a recommendation for denial of tenure by McGee, who previously hired and oversaw Moscowitz in his position as department chair.

In following McGee’s recommendation, McConnell overrode objections by the Faculty Hearing Committee and an advisory committee on tenure. Some faculty members said McGee should have recused himself from the decision-making process, and 25 faculty members signed a letter to the Board of Trustees in July saying that Moscowitz’s tenure denial was “a very bad decision with respect to the future welfare of the College.”

Richard Nunan, a philosophy professor who served for three years on the Tenure and Promotion Committee, said McConnell’s decision to deny Moscowitz tenure based on McGee’s recommendation was “well outside the norm.”

“The decision was ultimately based on (Moscowitz’s) research … and in terms of what’s normally regarded as research productivity for tenure at this institution, he’s pretty clearly met it,” Nunan said.

Faculty members have not been nearly as vocal in their opposition to McGee as they were to McConnell’s appointment as president in July 2014. At the time, both the Faculty Senate and the Student Government Association passed votes of no-confidence in the Board of Trustees’ selection process, citing McConnell’s lack of academic experience and high-profile defense of the Confederate flag as leading concerns.

Krasnoff said McConnell’s newcomer status in the world of academia may have led him to choose McGee as provost, particularly as the selection process was overshadowed by campus crises including the firing of basketball coach Doug Wojcik, a botched emergency notification during a bomb threat and the current academic year’s $1.5 million budget shortfall.

“Since President McConnell had no previous academic experience, he has relied on Brian McGee as he worked through these crises, especially this year’s,” Krasnoff said. “In the end, he organized his time to leave himself no room other than to appoint McGee without asking for meaningful faculty input.”

Political science professor Claire Curtis said she sent an email to McConnell in August asking whether faculty would have an opportunity to provide input on the provost selection process. Curtis said she sent a follow-up email to McConnell after he announced he had chosen McGee.

“Such decisions are, of course, yours to make,” Curtis wrote. “But you have made an assertion about receiving input, and it is unclear which faculty were asked to provide any.”

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