For the past year state lawmakers, business leaders, and local politicians in the Charleston area have been having an ongoing conversation about a possible merger between CofC and MUSC. The chief backers of the legislation filed on Thursday are Lowcountry legislators state Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Daniel Island, and State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston. Merrill told South Carolina Radio Network that the economy of the Charleston area is changing, especially with Boeing in the area. He said and those changes necessitate the new university.
“We need to be able to answer those needs,” Merrill said.
Merrill said the idea of merging the schools has been discussed for the past year to meet future business and research demands. “The proper way to do it was to file a bill, let the legislative process take effect — hold hearings, gather information, gather fiscal impact and use that to see whether or not it is an idea whose time has come,” Merrill said.
Representatives at both schools did not wish to comment on the proposal without reviewing the specifics of the bill. But MUSC Board of Trustees Chair Tom Stephenson told the Charleston Post & Courier that, while MUSC is in favor of collaboration, “we see merger as much more problematic.”
But Stavrinakis said the two schools are state agencies and could be ordered to merge. “That’s not what we want,” he added. “Our intent is to further enhance both schools and to make sure the people of SC get the highest and best return on their investment.”
Both schools are currently transitioning to new leaders. Former MUSC president Raymond Greenberg left over the summer to take a new job with the University of Texas. Meanwhile College of Charleston president George Benson said he plans to return to teaching once his replacement is named later this year.
Charleston Mayor Joe Riley also came out in support of the idea. “A comprehensive research and graduate degree granting university is essential for the future economic success of the Charleston region,” he wrote in a statement. “A Charleston University containing the Medical University of South Carolina and the College of Charleston will only enhance both of these institutions. Having eventually PhD programs in chemistry, physics, computer science, aeronautical engineering, perhaps a law school, and even more are the model for the future of a healthy, vibrant region… This is an idea whose time has come.”
The legislation has been sent to the House Ways and Means Committee.
Sheree Bernardi contributed to this report.