COLUMBIA - A six-member committee has been appointed to consider the potential merger between the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina, state House members confirmed Wednesday.
Reps. Jim Merrill, Leon Stavrinakis, Kenny Bingham, Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Mike Anthony and Chip Limehouse were appointed by the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee to serve on an "ad-hoc" board that will consider the merger of the two schools. Merrill and Stavrinakis filed a bill last month that would merge MUSC and the College of Charleston to create the Lowcountry's first comprehensive research university.
Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, who appointed the committee, said that he wants members - who have divergent views on the issue - to hash through a potential merger, hold hearings and decide what is in the best interest of the state and higher education.
As state dollars to higher education have declined after the Recession, most of the state budget is devoted to K-12 education and healthcare, White said. That means colleges and universities must find efficiencies, and a potential merger could serve the state best, he said. But he and others are not wedded to that outcome.
"We don't know how it should go," White said of the merger of the two schools.
"But ... we need to be discussing higher ed, whether it's mergers or partnerships."
Limehouse, R-Charleston, said that a merger of the two schools doesn't make much sense. MUSC, which has top-ranked medical programs and provides quality healthcare across the state, is a very different place than the liberal arts-focused College of Charleston, he said.
"I don't know that flip flops and white coats go together," Limehouse said.
Merrill and Stavrinakis, who both represent the Lowcountry, said that the largest metropolitan area in the state needs a comprehensive research university to attract businesses and train and educate the next generation of South Carolina's workers. "Harvard College somehow does just fine with a medical school attached to it," Stravrinakis said. "This is the standard of what great universities look like."
MUSC has been the most vocal opponent of any merger. MUSC Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Stephenson has repeatedly expressed deep concerns about merging the institutions.
"I do not believe any synergies are involved in merging the two institutions and, in fact, believe it will cost many millions of dollars," Stephenson said recently. "I also believe it will divert MUSC from its three primary missions: providing great medical education, engaging in medical research and providing great clinical care for the citizens of South Carolina."
House Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, a sponsor of the merger bill, said that merging the two institutions is a good solution to do what most agree needs to happen - create a large-scale research university in Charleston. But he said that others would be open to other options.
"The most important thing is that we get a comprehensive research university in the Lowcountry," Harrell said. "We've started the conversation."
The committee does not yet have a chairman or a first meeting scheduled.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 843-708-5837 or on Twitter @Jeremy_Borden.