BY JOHN M. PALMS

I fully support The Post and Courier's Sunday editorial "Get objective view of merger" - the merger being that of the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina. This makes excellent sense but cannot be achieved in the absence of a much overdue objective strategic plan for higher education for the entire state. I also concur with the same editorial view that "the Commission on Higher Education is comparatively weak." This in the sense only that it is not set up to plan and govern higher education in the state, at least not as currently constituted and empowered.

First, however, a broader state plan is needed. Creating an opportunity for such a plan was initiated by Gov. Mark Sanford several years ago.

In 2006, by Executive Order 2006-01, he established a higher education task force to work with the Commission on Higher Education to "identify steps to reduce tuition, encourage more collaboration and reduce duplication." This was to be a statewide plan. The task force met throughout the summer of 2006, reviewed recent data and considered and reviewed testimony from various state and national higher education officials, the governor and legislators. The report was published on Sept. 28, 2006, and is available online as "Final Report of the Governor's Task Force on Higher Education Presented to The Honorable Mark Sanford."

It is interesting that a member of the task force was Dr. Ray Greenberg, who was, at that time, president of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC).

The following are important paragraphs of the executive summary of the report:

"The Task Force finds the evidence overwhelmingly supports that many of the issues surrounding higher education are symptoms of a pressing need to coordinate activities through a comprehensive statewide strategic plan for higher education. Further, this plan must be developed mindful of meeting the state's human, economic and educational needs, and with thoughtful alignment to the state's current plans for economic development, educational improvement, and desires for increased quality of life.

"The Task Force believes a plan that best serves South Carolina will take into consideration the needs of the state in a logical and results-oriented manner; be externally driven with selfless input from the higher education, K-12, the governor, the legislature and the private sector, particularly the business community; be based in best academic and business practices with incentives for innovations in the effective and efficient delivery of higher education; and provide affordable educational options that can be exercised following market principles of consumer information and consumer choice aligned with the academic capabilities of all citizens desiring a higher education.

"To seize upon opportunities for the intellectual development of the state's citizens, their improved quality of life, and realization of the state's economic development hopes and aspirations, the Task Force finds it is imperative that the governor and legislature collaboratively take the steps necessary to cause the development of this plan.

"In light of these beliefs, the Task Force recommends:

? That the governor and legislature, at their most immediate opportunity, together, convene a committee of limited duration that is appropriately funded and staffed, and comprised of a representative collection of knowledgeable members of the higher education, public education (K-12), and business communities, (and others as deemed necessary by the governor and legislature);

? That the Committee be charged to develop and recommend an evolving, multi-year, Statewide Strategic Plan for higher education in South Carolina to meet the needs of the state as can be addressed by higher education; and

? That following the development of the Plan, the governor and legislature, together, continue to provide appropriate support necessary for successful implementation and fulfillment of the recommended Plan."

This report was never acted upon, and in view of the many issues facing higher education in the state at this time, including adequate funding, mission expansion and the selection of certain institutional presidents, it would be most appropriate to recommend that the Legislature adopt Gov. Sanford's report and have a statewide strategic plan completed. Then establish an appropriate body to implement and govern the plan and commit to find funds for its success.

Dr. John M. Palms served as president of the University of South Carolina, 1991-2002.