It appears an effort to establish a new research university connected with the College of Charleston will be one of the final floor fights in the Statehouse this year.
A bill that would have established the college appeared to be dead last week after Senate Majority Leader Harvey Peeler, R-Cherokee, and Senate President Pro Tempore Sen. John Courson placed procedural holds on it. The holds effectively block the bill from being debated.
But the House, controlled by Charleston native House Speaker Bobby Harrell, tried again. They tacked the exact same language onto a separate bill that would give Clemson more independence in construction projects — legislation strongly pushed by Peeler. The new bill passed the House 82-13 on Thursday and is now headed back to the Senate.
State Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, is among those pushing the idea. He says the new university could help fill jobs by offering the right advanced degrees. “We have jobs that are being unfilled by South Carolina workers because we’re not offering the right advanced degrees in this region,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “It’s causing an economic drag and obviously a higher education drag.”
Stavrinakis and other legislators originally pushed an idea to merge the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC). Now the plan is to simply expand the College of Charleston’s course offerings and designate the new courses as part of the “University of Charleston.”
But Courson questioned why the bill is being pushed so quickly this late in the session. He had wanted the measure to go through the Senate Education Committee to get public input before it got to the floor.
“I just think we really need to take a deep breath, have a series of public hearings, and get input from people who are supportive of the concept… and people who’d be opposed,” he said.
Stavrinakis said the state Department of Commerce, the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce, and officials from CofC and MUSC support the plan. He hinted that the opposition comes from senators with ties to Clemson (Peeler’s brother chairs the Clemson board of trustees) and the University of South Carolina (Courson’s district covers USC).
“There’s no good reason not to do it,” Stavrinakis said. “The people who are holding this up are doing it for either parochial reasons or for apparently personal reasons.”
State Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley, went even further — calling Courson’s hold “a declaration of war on Charleston.”
Courson insists he does not oppose the bill, but wants such a significant college expansion to be properly vetted. He also disputed that he was acting on USC’s behalf. “In fact, I mentioned it briefly to (USC President) Pastides that it was coming up. He did not comment on it. I did not ask for an opinion from the president of (USC) or anybody on the board of trustees,” he said. “This has to do with if we’re going to move forward with another research institution. Let’s discuss it, have hearings on it, then move forward on it.”
South Carolina Radio Network’s Patrick Ingraham filed this report