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College of Charleston research bill dies for this year

06/17/2014 1:57 PM

07/29/2014 8:05 PM

S.C. lawmakers failed to reach a compromise Tuesday on a bill that would allow the College of Charleston to become a research university and relieve public colleges from some state regulation of construction projects and land purchases.

The different higher education issues attached to the same bill could not win support senators and representatives assigned to work out a compromise. House members are not planning to come back after Tuesday, which kills the bill's chances this session.

"We were first-and-goal from the 5 (yard-line) and ran four plays and didn't make it across the goal line," said Sen. Larry Grooms, a Berkeley Republican who pushed for the College of Charleston research school.

Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who will become the College of Charleston president next month, said called the death of the bill "very disappointing." He added: "It will slow our progress."

McConnell said the College of Charleston will try to work with the S.C. Commission on Higher Education to change its mission statement -- a move that could allow the school to offer doctoral degrees. But he still wants a change in the law at some point.

With the current legislation, senators, led by Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, had doubts about moving quickly to make the College of Charleston the state's third full-fledged research university that was part of the House bill. Some lawmakers have thought pressure to move forward was coming from McConnell taking over the school soon.

Peeler, R-Cherokee, along with Senate Education Committee chairman John Courson, R-Richland, said they are not opposed to the new research designation that could help boost economic-development, but they want to take more time to study the issue.

"Will the world come to an end ... if we come back to this in January?" Peeler asked at a conference committee meeting.

Charleston-area lawmakers said $28 million in donations are tied to the bill’s passage as well as new programs that could aid employers including aircraft maker Boeing that has a plant in North Charleston.

College of Charleston said it would not offer doctoral degrees that that duplicate work by the state’s other major research schools, Clemson and the University of South Carolina. Planned doctoral degrees include computer science and supply chain logistics, school officials.

"We will be responsible for losing many, many jobs if we don't pass it," said Rep. Jim Merrill, a Berkeley Republican who sits on the conference committee.

The Senate version would allow Clemson to forgo state regulatory reviews for construction work and land purchases. Clemson asked USC to join the bill, but the state’s flagship university declined. USC is neutral on the bill.

But some House members questioned giving so much autonomy to a Clemson board with a majority of members appointed for life and not by the General Assembly. The House came up with a compromise that could eliminate some of the regulatory hurdles for all public colleges but that did not sway senators.

Senate conferees insisted on regulatory relief for Clemson -- a final stumbling block that lawmakers could not overcome.

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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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