College of Charleston faculty members speak out against merger
Faculty members at the College of Charleston want to make something perfectly clear: Most of them are opposed to the school merging with the Medical University of South Carolina.
Several faculty members called for an open meeting Monday to discuss legislation filed last week by state Reps. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, and Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, called the "Charleston University Act." Several dozen faculty members from the college, and some from MUSC, attended the meeting.
Simon Lewis, an English professor and one of the faculty members who organized the meeting, said the widely held perception that the College of Charleston supports the plan simply is wrong. "Actually, the college is not in support of this legislation," he said, likening it to "a shotgun marriage."
Lewis also said that a faculty committee last week released the results of an online survey that made clear that the majority of faculty members are opposed to a merger. And even supporters of a comprehensive research institution expressed doubt that the state and the business community would provide enough financial support to make the merger a success.
Faculty members who spoke at the meeting raised many concerns, including whether a merger would harm the distinct character of the individual schools, whether it would be better for the schools to simply collaborate, and how students and parents might react negatively to the plan.
Skip Recter, who has worked as an adjunct professor in the college's School of Education, Health and Human Performance for more than 20 years, also questioned why legislators were trying push the merger through so quickly. "I feel like the Olympics have come to Charleston and we've been pushed down the luge," he said. "We need to know who's doing the pushing. Then we can figure out the hidden agendas," he said.
College of Charleston President George Benson, who is stepping down in June, is a strong and public supporter of the merger. He even touted the idea to an S.C. House Ways the Means subcommittee last week. Benson, who attended the meeting, said, "I am in favor of a merger, but I have always tried to make it clear that is my personal opinion."
Benson also said he attended the meeting to listen. The legislation and the merger plans likely will change in the coming months as more people weigh in, he said.
Bob Podolsky, a biology professor, said, "Our perspective is the president is not representing the faculty, the strategic plan and the college."
Despite strong hesitation expressed by some MUSC leaders, Merrill and Stavrinakis filed the legislation Thursday morning. It would merge the College of Charleston, MUSC and the Medical University Hospital Authority to create a comprehensive research university in Charleston.
In a joint statement last week, they said the measure "is a response to business demands in the Lowcountry to create a workforce to match our growing economy."
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, is co-sponsoring the bill, which has been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee for consideration.
Richard Bodek, a history professor at the college, said legislators shouldn't be pushing this bill while the college and MUSC are searching for new presidents. "I can't think of anything more irresponsible than putting this bill out right now," he said.
MUSC administrators and board members have expressed worries that a merger between the schools will compromise its presidential search.
MUSC Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Stephenson, who has been vocal about his concerns surrounding a potential merger of the schools, said last week that he expects the board will discuss the issue at its meeting Thursday.
And Tom Smith, president of MUSC's Faculty Senate, said his group will meet Tuesday morning to discuss the merger.
Meanwhile, the campus is buzzing.
MUSC Interim President Mark Sothmann sent a campus-wide email Friday soliciting feedback from faculty, staff and students. "Over many months I have written the MUSC faculty and staff about the advanced-degree needs of the business community and the desirability of more structured collaborations with the College of Charleston to meet those needs," Sothmann wrote. "These conversations have never gone so far as to suggest a merger, and in fact I do not see it as prudent."
While the bill under consideration technically renames MUSC and the College of Charleston, Stavrinakis said Friday that it is not his intention to dilute the brand, image or core missions of either school.
Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.