Lawmaker: Chancellor would oversee merged universities

By Ashley Barker
Published March 6, 2014

If the Medical University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston merge, the two institutions would maintain their individual presidents with a chancellor serving over the combined university, according to Sen. Larry Grooms.

In February, Grooms introduced Senate bill 1021, which closely mimics House bill 4632. Both bills call for the College of Charleston and MUSC to become one research university. If the merger bills are successful, a chancellor would be hired to oversee Charleston University, Grooms said.

The executive structure of a merged institution has been a topic among members of both schools, which are in the middle of national searches for a president. Former MUSC President Dr. Raymond Greenberg left the university in August for a position at the University of Texas System, and College of Charleston President George Benson is expected to step down on June 30 to return as a member of the faculty.

CofC’s board of trustees has narrowed its presidential finalists to three: Dennis “Jody” Encarnation, an international business consultant; Glenn F. McConnell, lieutenant governor of South Carolina; and Martha D. Saunders, a former president of the University of Southern Mississippi. The college confirmed that at least two candidates, including former White House chief of staff Andrew H. Card Jr., dropped out of the search for undisclosed reasons.

Meanwhile, MUSC’s presidential search committee was expected to begin reviewing applications on Wednesday. Finalists are likely to visit the campus between April 17-25, according to the university’s board of trustees.

Grooms said the merger bills request the institutions’ boards to consolidate into one decision-making entity in 2016. He said other institutional services could also combine — offices of public relations, human relations and marketing, for example.

“Individually, it’s more difficult. Some of that would probably be combined,” he said. “You don’t need two separate marketing groups.”

He said those issues are not in the bills because they would ultimately be up to the central governing body.

The number of degrees being offered in the area is expected to increase if Charleston University is created. Grooms said the business community, including the Boeing Co., has had a difficult time finding local employees to fill jobs.

“Particularly in technology, engineering, logistics, transportation … postgraduate degrees are sorely lacking. We’re not filling the needs we have in the Lowcountry,” Grooms said.

Support for House bill on the decline

The Senate Charleston University bill was referred to the Education Committee in late February, and the House bill was sent to the Ways and Means Committee.

On Tuesday, Rep. William “Bill” Crosby, R-North Charleston, requested to be removed from the sponsor list of H 4632. He said when the bill initially came out, he was asked to support it by the Charleston delegation. As he looked into the deal more, he determined there was not enough information to make a decision.

“I’d like to see us do a little bit longer and a more detailed study of exactly what we are wanting to do,” Crosby said. “At the present time, I don’t think I ought to be supporting it.”

Crosby said the merger should be between the College of Charleston and the Charleston School of Law. The InfiLaw System is currently waiting on approval from the state’s Commission on Higher Education for a license to purchase and operate the Charleston School of Law. Crosby doesn’t think it will receive approval from the commission.

A provision was included in the Charleston School of Law’s license that strictly prohibited the school from discussing or considering a transfer of the school to a public state institution of higher education. But the commission amended the license to allow public institutions the chance to discuss buying the school.

“I don’t think InfiLaw is going to be the fix we need,” Crosby said, adding he understands there are currently barriers in the way of a CofC and school of law merger. “We write laws. So we can write a law to make this happen.”

He said the proposed merger between MUSC and CofC doesn’t have enough people supporting it.

“The majority of people feel like it’s best for that not to happen at the present time,” he said. “We don’t have strong feelings of support from the schools.”

On Feb. 18, Rep. Robert L. Brown, D-Hollywood, Rep. David Mack III, D-North Charleston, and Rep. Mike Sottile, R-Isle of Palms, requested they no longer be listed as sponsors.

Brown said that when he first signed on as a co-sponsor, he was under the impression that the merger had already been worked out between the college and MUSC leaders.

“Now that I’m learning there’s still some differences, I thought it would be good for me not to be a co-sponsor,” Brown said. “I’m undecided. I want to listen to the debates over it, and I’m just not sure if I’m going to support it or not.”

Reach Ashley Barker at 843-849-3144 or @AshleyNBarker.

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