Coming Sunday

We answer basic questions about the "Charleston University Act."

A bill to merge the Medical University of South Carolina with the College of Charleston hasn't come up for a vote yet in the General Assembly, but MUSC leaders say the mere idea is already damaging their ability to hire a new president.

Top contenders have withdrawn their names from the search amid such uncertainty about the future of the school, said MUSC Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Stephenson.

"We had a telephone call last week with our consultant, and the first thing out of the consultant's mouth was that this merger talk has affected our applicant pool," Stephenson said. "People don't want to come here and move from some distant place with this much uncertainty."

The Board of Trustees passed a resolution Thursday opposing the "Charleston University Act," which proposes to merge the schools by July 1, 2016.

All board members who voted were in favor of the resolution to oppose the merger; one board member, Michael Stavrinakis, abstained from the vote.

Stavrinakis recused himself because his brother, Rep. Leon Stavrinakis, D-Charleston, filed the merger bill with Rep. Jim Merrill, R-Charleston, in the S.C. House of Representatives last week.

"I have a great affinity for this board and its members, and I appreciate the passion of this board and what they believe," Michael Stavrinakis said. "I also have a great affinity and passion of the authors of the bill."

The Board of Trustees heard lengthy testimony from faculty, staff and students on Thursday before passing the resolution. All those speakers opposed the bill to merge the schools.

"I think it creates confusion," said Jim Fisher, vice president for development and alumni affairs.

Fisher said a merger could make it difficult to raise $50 million in donations that the board estimates it needs to build a new $350 million women's and children's hospital.

"That's going to have a very negative impact on fundraising," he said.

Katherine Rutland, an MUSC dental student and a College of Charleston graduate, received a round of applause from board members when she argued that a merger would hurt MUSC.

"The caliber of student at the College of Charleston is not in the same arena as MUSC," Rutland said.

"This is not meant to discredit the College of Charleston. I'm proud to call C of C my alma mater. In my opinion, it's an institution that provides an undergraduate education superior to any other in the state."

But, she said, undergraduate students at C of C are not dedicated to their education like MUSC students are. In fact, many of the students who start as freshmen at the College of Charleston never graduate, she said.

"If merged, those that do not graduate would burden our resources and misdirect our attention from our mission of health care education and research," Rutland said.

The bill to merge the schools has been referred to the House Ways and Means committee for consideration. It must pass the S.C. House and the S.C. Senate, then be signed by Gov. Nikki Haley to become law.

The College of Charleston Board of Trustees has not discussed the legislation yet. That board is scheduled to meet in mid-March.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.