CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - The College of Charleston announced Monday morning that its leader will retire later this year.
President Glenn McConnell said Monday he plans to retire from the position this upcoming summer. McConnell notified the school's board of trustees of his intent last Friday.
McConnell, 70, has been in office since July 2014 and cited his age and health as factors in his decision.
"Over the past two months, I have taken a hard look at the challenges ahead as well as my physical abilities and energy long term to do this job and to meet other responsibilities I have at the same level as in the past," McConnell said in a statement. "I have concluded that I should retire. I did not come to this decision lightly, but I know in my heart that it is the right thing to do. As an alumnus of the College, I love and respect this great institution and its people too much to not give the energy needed and my full and undivided attention every single day in the years ahead, especially as we approach the 250th anniversary of our founding."
The news met with mixed emotions on the campus Monday afternoon where students learned of McConnell's announcement from an email.
"I thought he'd be staying on for, you know, at least another four or five years," CofC senior Mitch Madera said.
Madera joins a handful of students who say they're not only surprised but sad to see President McConnell go.
"Yeah, he honestly just made it a great time for me at CofC," junior Jacobs Schultz said.
But other students said they were happy to hear the news.
"I was excited about it, just at the prospect of someone that may be less controversial, more involved," junior Franny Jackson said.
That controversy began before McConnell took office, when more than 200 students protested against the college's decision to hire McConnell in 2014. He was criticized throughout the presidential search process for his participation in Civil War reenactments and support of the Confederate flag. Members of the NAACP called him "the face of the Confederacy" in the state.
"I've never had a good impression about him as a president and I'm just hoping that once he's gone we get somebody that actually will look out for the best interest of all the students here," sophomore Meshauna Dwight said. "I hope that they'll put in someone that's deserving, you know, someone that the students approve of."
The chairman of the board of trustees said in a memo the college was grateful for McConnell's work and wishes he could stay longer. He said the board is working hard to find a replacement for McConnell as soon as possible, but did not specify a timeline.
CofC board members unanimously selected McConnell from three candidates.
When he was selected, McConnell said it felt like coming home.
"Probably if I had not gone back for commencement maybe I would have just said, 'It's for somebody else,' but I went back to commencement as a speaker, and I saw those students faces, and I saw the families out there excited over their accomplishment, and it was like a trip back in time for me," McConnell said in 2014 when he was named the college's new president.
A Charleston native, McConnell earned his degree in political science from the college in 1969.
He was later elected to the South Carolina Senate in 1980 and stayed in office for 32 years. In March 2012, he reluctantly became the state's 89th lieutenant governor when then Lt. Gov. Ken Ard resigned in a corruption scandal.
"What I do today is what every person that seeks and hold public office should be prepared to do: fulfill the oath of office we made to discharge the duties of the office to which we were elected," he said in a speech at the Statehouse.
Just after McConnell was sworn in as lieutenant governor, lawmakers passed a resolution to place his portrait high above the senate floor in honor of his work for the people of South Carolina.
McConnell will have served as CofC president for four years when he steps down.
CofC Board of Trustees Chairman David Hay said he intends to move, "swiftly" to organize a search process for McConnell's successor.