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POLITICS: Bill would merge CofC, MUSC into Charleston University

02/06/2014 12:33 PM

02/06/2014 12:53 PM

Two Lowcountry lawmakers want to create comprehensive research university in Charleston by merging the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina.

Charleston-area Reps. Jim Merrill, a Republican, and Leon Stavrinakis, a Democrat, introduced a bill to create Charleston University in response to business demands and to ensure "the long-term excellence" of the schools, they said in statement.

"We are confident this merger does not adversely affect either institution, and ultimately, the merged value and prestige of Charleston University will be greater than the simple sum of its parts," the statement said. "The bottom line is, this merger is long overdue - it is right for business; it is right for higher education; it is right for the Lowcountry; it is right for South Carolina; and it is our obligation as legislators to deliver."

If approved, the campuses would merge by July 1, 2016. College of Charleston would be called "Charleston University George Street Campus" and MUSC would become "Charleston University Medical Campus."

The new university's board would consist of 23 members of the 37 trustees serving on the MUSC and College of Charleston boards, the bill proposes.

The new board would be appointed by House and Senate leaders and the governor by July 1. The MUSC and College of Charleston boards would continue to operate until the merger is completed.

Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, said he plans to introduce a companion bill in the Senate on Tuesday.

House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, is among 11 co-sponsors of the bill.

"Business leaders have strongly embraced the idea of this merger, knowing that a full-scale comprehensive research university in Charleston is not just good for the Lowcountry's economic future but our entire state's," Harrell said in the statement.

S.C. Commerce Secretary Bobby Hitt said a research university in the Lowcountry would benefit business but added “an undertaking this large should come from collaboration of the two respective Boards and their stakeholders, and we encourage those discussions.”

The long-standing discussions between MUSC and College of Charleston about merging took off last year. No decisions have been made, though MUSC leadership has been hesitant about combining the schools.

Merrill said in an interview that the colleges should merge despite any objections if the new school makes business sense and is good for the state. He said the merger would be vetted through the legislative process including committee hearings. Merrill did not have a price estimates for the merger, but he expected any new costs would be offset by savings on combining operations including accounting and police.

The state has two other large research universities, University of South Carolina and Clemson University. MUSC also is considered a research school, though it does not offer undergraduate programs.

The Lowcountry deserves to have a full-fledged research university like the Midlands and Upstate, Merrill said.

He said lawmakers could have made the College of Charleston a research university but other schools would have objected to having two research universities in the same city.

Becoming a research university will not take state money away from USC and Clemson because the Charleston University would have new ways to raise money and obtain grants, Merrill said.

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A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to Follow The Buzz @buzzatthestate. Follow Cassie @cassielcope. Follow Jamie @jamiemself. Follow Andy @andyshain.

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