The College of Charleston's Board of Trustees soon will choose the school's next president from among three finalists with diverse backgrounds.

Public reaction to the selection process has grown contentious in recent weeks, largely because the board selected Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell as one of the finalists.

McConnell's supporters include many state legislators, who have said his Statehouse experience could help the college get the resources it needs in the future. His opponents say he lacks higher-education experience, and that his support of the Confederate battle flag flying on the Statehouse grounds could be detrimental to the college's efforts to increase diversity.

So far, the two other finalists, Dennis "Jody" Encarnation and Martha Saunders, have not evoked outspoken groups of critics or supporters.

The school's Faculty Senate, and some others on campus and in the community, are encouraging the board to hire a president who has strong academic experience.

Finalists will be on campus this week for interviews. Background information on the finalists can be found on the presidential search page on the school's website at trustees.cofc.edu/presidential-search.

Dennis "Jody" Encarnation

Current position: Owner of the Boston-based consulting business Dennis J. Encarnation & Associates.

Education: Doctorate and master's degrees in political science, and a master's degree in public policy, from Duke University; bachelor's degree in political science from the College of Charleston.

Campus visit: Wednesday.

Strengths

Encarnation is a Lowcountry native with higher-education and business experience. He taught at the Harvard Business School and Harvard's Center for Business and Government for about three decades before retiring. He also has an international business background. His business connections, including those to Boeing Co., could benefit the college as well as regional economic development.

Encarnation could not be reached Tuesday for a comment on what he thinks about the possible merger of the college with the Medical University of South Carolina and other efforts to possibly create a research university in Charleston.

In a letter of interest included in his application packet, Encarnation said he was able to receive a college education largely because the institutions he attended provided significant financial assistance. That is why, he said, he is committed to scholarship programs based on need and academic merit.

Encarnation serves on the college's Foundation Board.

Drawbacks

While Encarnation has spent decades at universities, he has little higher-education leadership experience. And while he has raised money for economic development efforts connected to higher education, he does not have experience as the principal leader raising money for a specific higher education institution.

Glenn McConnell

Age: 67

Current position: Lieutenant governor of South Carolina.

Education: Juris doctorate from the University of South Carolina School of Law, bachelor's degree in political science from the College of Charleston.

Campus visit: Thursday.

Strengths

McConnell is a Charleston native and was a state senator for more than 30 years, the last 11 as president pro tempore. In that role he forged strong ties, and much goodwill, with members of the Legislature and other state leaders. His supporters, including some local lawmakers, say McConnell could use those ties to benefit his alma mater, and to possibly bring in more resources to the college.

In his letter of interest McConnell said he has the experience and skills needed to "help transition the college into an exciting new role as a rising research university while preserving and enriching (the college's) liberal arts core."

McConnell also stated that it is important for a president to raise money for the school, but it is equally important to focus on achieving excellence in teaching and learning. He see the president's job as an opportunity to "help achieve an affordable, accessible, world-class education for our students."

Drawbacks

McConnell has no academic experience. The college's Faculty Senate has not made a statement specifically about McConnell, but the group passed a resolution encouraging the college's board to hire a president with academic experience.

And members of the NAACP have questioned how McConnell's support of flying the battle flag on Statehouse grounds would impact the college's efforts to increase diversity.

Martha D. Saunders

Age: 65

Current position: Provost, University of West Florida.

Education: Doctorate in communication theory and research, Florida State University; master's degree in journalism from the Grady School of Journalism at the University of Georgia; bachelor's degree in French from the University of Southern Mississippi.

Campus visit: Friday.

Strengths

Saunders has a strong academic leadership background, including a five-year stint as president of her alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, Saunders is credited with many accomplishments during her time there, including increasing private giving, leading the university through tough economic times, and appointing an oil-spill-response team.

In her letter of interest, Saunders said she also has a track record in achieving record-breaking enrollment, developing campus facilities and increasing institutions' national visibility. She also said she has a strong commitment to the community, which has led to economic development partnerships, and that she understands the unique needs and role of public higher-education institutions.

On a possible merger with MUSC, Saunders said the idea was "intriguing" but that it was premature for her make a serious comment. "I know there's a great deal of interest, but like anything, the devil is in the details."

Drawbacks

After many successes as president at Southern Miss, Saunders unexpectedly stepped down from the post in 2012 for personal reasons. Her announcement came the same day an unexplained financial deficit of more than $1 million emerged in the school's athletic department. Saunders said at the time that her decision had nothing to do with athletics, and she never was accused of wrongdoing. After stepping down, she taught mass communication classes at the university's Gulf Park campus.