COLUMBIA - Charleston Mayor Joe Riley said he plans to push a merger between the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina when he appears in front of an S.C. House committee.
The committee, scheduled to meet Wednesday morning, is made up of six House members with divergent views on whether to merge CofC and MUSC, a contentious proposition that would create the Lowcountry's first comprehensive research university.
"You're not going to create it from scratch," Riley said in an interview. "This is the way to do it." A medical university anchor is seen in other major higher education systems in the country, he said.
"It wouldn't diminish them," he said of MUSC's separate mission. "I think it enhances them."
MUSC officials have so far disagreed, saying that a merger is not in the best interest of the school or the region. College of Charleston officials have voiced similar concerns.
The panel tasked with hashing through merger issues is made up of Reps. Jim Merrill, Leon Stavrinakis, Kenny Bingham, Gilda Cobb-Hunter, Mike Anthony and Chip Limehouse. Republican Merrill and Democrat Stavrinakis, both of Charleston, filed a bill that would merge the two schools last month.
They say the region needs a comprehensive research university to attract and retain businesses and train the next generation of South Carolina's workforce.
The committee has two members on each side of the debate and two considered to be in the middle. Merrill and Stavrinakis have argued for the merger while Bingham, R-Cayce, and Limehouse, R-Charleston, said they are opposed to it.
There may be too many issues to work through for the merger bill to pass this legislative session, lawmakers say. Among those is Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, a College of Charleston alumnus and finalist to head the college as its new president, who has said that the merger issues are likely too complex to work through this session.
Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Charleston, who has sponsored a companion merger bill in the Senate, said Tuesday that even if the bill passes the House this year, it likely won't be taken up in the Senate.
"We're out of time in the legislative session," Grooms said. "But you have to start serious discussions at some point. This is a multi-year process and it has to be accepted by the schools."
Two others are also expected to speak to the committee: Julie Carullo a director at the S.C. Commission on Higher Education and Mary Graham, a senior official at the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837 or on Twitter @Jeremy_Borden.
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