Legislators revise plans for the Medical University of S.C., College of Charleston

By Ashley Barker
abarker@scbiznews.com
Published April 3, 2014

A plan endorsed by future College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell seems to be taking shape.

Legislators on an ad hoc committee unanimously decided Wednesday to amend a proposal that would have combined the Medical University of South Carolina and CofC into Charleston University. Instead, they plan to create a research university at the existing University of Charleston, South Carolina, which is a graduate entity already within CofC.

Officials from the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce along with S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt and Charleston Mayor Joe Riley told the ad hoc committee that expanded higher education and research opportunities are needed in the region and state. But leaders from MUSC and CofC were opposed to an outright merger, saying the brand and unique identities of the colleges would be lost.

The College of Charleston’s board of trustees discussed the merger in late March before requesting authorization to offer targeted doctoral programs. (Photo by Ashley Barker)
The College of Charleston’s board of trustees discussed the merger in late March before requesting authorization to offer targeted doctoral programs. (Photo by Ashley Barker)
The Medical University of South Carolina’s board of trustees unanimously passed a resolution in February against a merger with CofC. (Photo by Ashley Barker)
The Medical University of South Carolina’s board of trustees unanimously passed a resolution in February against a merger with CofC. (Photo by Ashley Barker)
Charleston Reps. Leon Stavrinakis and Jim Merrill introduced the House merger bill in February.

“Holding true to our commitment that we would not force a merger upon anyone, we worked closely with all stakeholders to craft a proposal that achieved our ultimate goal while gaining unanimous support so as to move this proposal forward without unnecessary delay,” Stavrinakis and Merrill said in a joint statement. “All parties agree this outcome will allow the relationship between MUSC and the College of Charleston to grow naturally over time, while allowing for collaboration to be pursued immediately and for merger discussions to be held in the future if required.”

Last week, McConnell — who was the recent target of a handful of protests by CofC students — said he would push for expanding the University of Charleston.

“We have an opportunity to use that as a platform to engage in advanced studies and collaborations with other universities,” McConnell said. “The College of Charleston doesn’t need to be absorbed. It can remain a vibrant college and can also be a place for the University of Charleston.”

Current President George Benson said the proposal would preserve the name and the undergraduate identity of the college, and, for the first time, the College of Charleston’s status as a liberal arts college would be formally recognized by the state. The designation of the University of Charleston, South Carolina as a research university would leave CofC virtually unchanged, he said.

“The majority of our current faculty would continue the great work of the undergraduate, student-focused College of Charleston and its historic liberal arts tradition,” Benson said. “This legislation has my full and enthusiastic support.”

CofC’s board discussed the merger in late March before requesting authorization to offer targeted doctoral programs.

Greg Padgett, chairman of the CofC board, expects recent conversations with MUSC leaders to bring about new collaborative opportunities.

“While the University of Charleston, South Carolina, will have greater latitude in program offerings, we will most certainly continue our tradition of collaboration with The Citadel, MUSC and other South Carolina universities,” Padgett said in a statement.

MUSC’s board of trustees unanimously passed a resolution in February against a merger with the college. Board members said a merger wouldn’t improve economic development and would jeopardize the future of both schools. They suggested options for collaboration would be less costly, more effective and would preserve the missions, cultures and reputations of each institution.

Tom Stephenson, MUSC board chairman, issued a statement Wednesday about the new proposal.

“The Medical University of South Carolina recognizes and supports the need for expanded graduate degree opportunities and collaboration with the College of Charleston to drive forward the growing economy of our region,” Stephenson said. “This amendment is endorsed as a positive step forward to achieve those goals and meet the research and economic development demands for the Lowcountry and the state of South Carolina.”

S.C. House Speaker Bobby Harrell said the idea is a great step forward for the Lowcountry.

“Our historic region has become a 21st century leader in many advanced fields like technology, aerospace manufacturing and medical research,” Harrell said in a statement. “It’s time that the Lowcountry also have a 21st century research university to further expand and capitalize on our future potential.”

Riley added that the University of Charleston expansion will create a competitive edge for the region.

“This amendment and the resulting graduate programs and collaboration with the medical university will eventually lead to a logical conclusion that the University of Charleston should eventually include the Medical University of South Carolina,” Riley said in a statement. “I believe having a great medical university within the family of the University of Charleston will prove to be best for both institutions at some point in time in the future.”

Bryan Derreberry, president and CEO of the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, called the proposal a win-win for the region and state.

The amended bill will head to the full House Ways and Means Committee for debate on Wednesday.

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

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