What's in the College of Charleston's name? Plenty
I really shouldn't be writing this. I am, after all, only a junior faculty member at the College of Charleston. Speaking my mind publicly would violate my own pre-tenure "keep your head down and your mouth shut" rule.
So instead, I am going to speak as a College of Charleston alumnus (1995) - not a wealthy one with my name on any buildings, but one who just happens to be a faculty member.
To be honest, until now, I had no strong feelings about the proposed merger between MUSC and the College of Charleston. On most days, I don't pay a lot of attention to the College of Charleston's politics.
So let me see if I'm getting this right: Advocates for the merger argue that Charleston needs a comprehensive research university. This would benefit the Lowcountry's future economy, and give the region the intellectual status and recognition it richly deserves.
OK, that makes sense. It also somehow makes the whole state more "symmetrical," with one research university upstate, one in the middle, and one on the coast, perhaps preventing Charleston from sliding into the Atlantic Ocean.
Opponents worry that the merger will strip the College of Charleston of its core liberal arts identity and undermine the value of humanities and social sciences. And they worry that the main benefits will accrue to political actors in the state rather than to students, who somehow never enter into the equation.
A quick glance at media coverage and an open ear to grumblings on the street present the merger as a fait accompli.
One thing, though: For the sake of all that is good and pure - DO NOT CHANGE THE NAME TO "Charleston University George Street Campus."
This is, quite frankly, an absurd name. It shows little regard for the people most closely connected to the College of Charleston - students, alumni, faculty, and the broader Charleston community. And it cynically renders bare any reassurances that the College of Charleston's core identity will not be damaged as it takes on the new moving parts of a research university.
The College of Charleston's name is not a superficial thing. Changing it to the "Charleston University George Street Campus" destroys an idea. It dismantles the distinct historical identity of an old institution that is so well captured by its beautiful, elegant name, which is also so fitting for our beautiful, elegant city. The College of Charleston. C of C. "The College of Knowledge." "The College."
The new name takes away all of this and replaces it with a robotic corporate label more suitable for some distant Microsoft outpost in a former British colony of the Third World. Will the bookstore on Calhoun Street start stocking its shelves with sweatshirts and coffee mugs that say "CUGSC"?
Will carriage tour operators roll past the Cistern and wax historical about the unique qualities of "Charleston University George Street Campus"?
It makes us sound more like a McCollege than the prestigious research university our local politicians so desperately crave.
As a College of Charleston alumnus, this prospect is all very devastating. Make no mistake - changing the name to the Charleston University George Street Campus will kill the College of Charleston.
Prospective students will surely scratch their heads at the unwieldy new label and could go elsewhere. Faculty will be demoralized.
The notion of a merger attracting alumni largesse may very well backfire - some alums might flee when the name of their alma mater no longer has any meaning for them, particularly when they think their money is going towards changing millions of pages of letterhead.
And the Charleston community will have something distinct taken from their city's many traditions.
In sum, I urge these actors - students, alumni, faculty, and the broader Charleston community - to mobilize against this one absurd thing, even if it means surrendering to the realities of the merger that you may oppose.
At the very least, the merger's architects can think of more thoughtful and constructive ways to engage these crucial stakeholders in addressing this one element of the College of Charleston's future.
Christopher Day is an assistant professor of political science at the College of Charleston.