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Cougar Tales: Ask McConnell (August 2014) 

JH: President McConnell, the Alumni Association appreciates this opportunity to interview you early in your tenure as the 22nd President of the College of Charleston. Do you have an opening comment?

LGGM: I have a long history with the College of Charleston, and I consider this to be a moment when my journey with the College has come full circle. This became clear to me last year when I spoke at Commencement and received an honorary degree. I left the College as student body president, and I am returning to the College as its president. I am honored to have the opportunity to again be a part of the College and its history.

JH: What are your initial goals for your Presidency at the College of Charleston?

LGGM: I’m at the threshold of this administration. My goal right now is to simply take inventory. I want to talk to people, to listen and to learn what they are excited about, or what they may be disappointed about, and what their ambitions are for the College. I can then better determine how I can utilize my experience to create consensus and preserve the College's strong liberal arts core while providing a quality education for students that will translate into employment opportunities for them worldwide. Some of my broad initial goals are to foster more diversity, enhance student retention and progression, and to bring together the human and financial resources needed to achieve the highest possible academic standards for the College. 

JH: Over the last 10 years, the College has enjoyed an elevated national profile. What are your plans to continue or enhance this rise, which will increase the demand for and the value of our degrees?

LGGM: I believe it's important for the College of Charleston to stay on the course of looking for opportunities to enhance excellence. We’ve got to keep tuition affordable, and we’ve got to make educational opportunities accessible and attainable to a diverse group of students. Where do we innovate? Do we engage in targeted research? Do we have the opportunity to create collaborative platforms with other colleges and universities? These are just some of the questions that need to be asked, strategies outlined and a consensus developed over the next year. 

JH: How do you envision collaborating more with the business community and future employers of our graduates? 

LGGM: One of the essential elements in getting the attention of these employers is developing collaborative arrangements. Also, we need to determine how we begin to match post-graduate courses to what the business community wants so that we make our programs relevant in an ever-shifting, competitive economy. We also need to engage our faculty in looking at what we are offering and determine what else we need to do to meet the educational needs of the students and the community. Our institution is a valuable asset in the economic development plan for our state. 

JH: What are your plans for illustrating, both internally and externally, the relevance of alumni at the College of Charleston? 

LGGM: Alumni are an essential element of the College. Thus, I want to hear from them about their recommendations on how we move alumni relations to the next level. I welcome suggestions for innovative ways we can connect with our alumni. We don't have an alumni house here at the College of Charleston. As I assess the various areas of the College, I am very interested in learning more about the proposed alumni center, which I understand is in the master plan. I am hopeful to become a catalyst to reconnect all alumni in a way that will strengthen and enrich the College. The liberal arts education I received here opened many doors for me in life, as I am sure it has done for so many other alumni. We, as loyal alumni, have a great opportunity to give back to the institution that gave us such a good foundation so it can do so much more for future generations to come.

JH: As president of the College of Charleston, what actions will you take to demonstrate your commitment to diversity and a campus climate that welcomes it?

LGGM: My record of public service has been about bringing people together and finding solutions to difficult problems. It is important to me to do the same at the College of Charleston. For over three decades as an attorney, a Senator, President Pro Tempore of the Senate and then Lieutenant Governor, I have been achieving results collaboratively in both the public and private sectors. It’s about mutual respect, acceptance, and communication. Our society is diverse – it’s imperative that our campus embraces and reflects that reality. 

JH: What are your plans for engagement to build and win the trust and confidence of each of these constituent groups? 

LGGM: Together, we are a big place, and together, we are here for a common purpose and mission. So it's important we understand we are a team; we are not on different sides. Thus, I will reach out to work with any group who has a willingness to work collaboratively. Effective leadership to me requires integrity, sacrifice, compassion, compromise, teamwork treating all stakeholders fairly and the obligation to always do the right thing. I am committed to these ideals as your next president.

JH: What do you think the future looks like for the enhancement of the University of Charleston, S.C., the aim of which would be to create greater opportunities to offer advanced degrees? 

LGGM: The most important statement to make is this: the College of Charleston will maintain its liberal arts identity. The University aspect of the College would allow for the creation of targeted advanced degrees that will enhance and strengthen our mission to serve the community. That was one of the reasons I thought that President Harry Lightsey had it right when he created the University of Charleston, S.C., as a graduate degree-granting entity. That platform will give us the ability to develop collaborative arrangements and advanced studies. It also will give us the ability to engage in targeted research, while we do not endanger in any way or compromise the identity of our resources at the College of Charleston. The College of Charleston will continue to have its liberal arts core while leaning forward to be more relevant to the future. I have posted my full position on the University of Charleston, S.C status on the College Today news site at http://today.cofc.edu/2014/07/23/president-mcconnell-updates-status-ucsc/.

JH: Will you have an open door policy for students, faculty, staff, and alumni? How visible will you be on campus? 

LGGM: Communication is important – at every level. I’m excited about meeting and interacting with students, faculty, staff, and alumni. They are going to be surprised at where I might show up on campus. It’s important for the success of the institution that I be available on both a professional and casual basis as much as possible. I’m very interested in hearing about concerns, challenges, constructive criticisms, and most important, suggestions, and I want to do everything possible to foster positive relationships.

JH: What is your favorite place on campus, if you have a favorite place?

LGGM: I’ve always loved the Porter’s Lodge, where we used to hold the SGA meetings and where I delivered the speech when I won the Bingham Oratorical Award. 

JH: The best or toughest professor in class? 

LGGM: There were so many. Madame Stafford Parrott, my French professor, was one of the greatest.

JH: What books are on your nightstand? 

LGGM: Notes on the College of Charleston, right now. 

JH: What is your favorite cuisine?

LGGM: Fried chicken strips.

JH: What is your favorite app? 

LGGM: The weather app. I’m always checking the weather to see when there will be a good day for jet skiing. I use my jet skis on the Santee Cooper lakes and down the Tail Race Canal and the Cooper River right into Charleston’s Harbor.