Voting for a new university president by secret ballot may not be an option anymore for the Medical University of South Carolina Board of Trustees if a proposed amendment to change the group's bylaws is approved later this year.

Board Chairman Tom Stephenson said he is confident the board acted legally when members cast confidential votes by phone last month to elect Dr. David Cole as its new president. Changing the rules for future votes will eliminate any doubt, he said.

"Our bylaws currently require secret ballot," Stephenson said during a board meeting Thursday. "I don't believe we had any choice. We had to do it that way, absent an amendment to the bylaws."

Stephenson proposed changing the bylaws to require members to cast public votes. The board could take action on the proposal at a meeting later this year.

On Thursday, the board voted twice more to ratify its earlier decision to hire Cole as the new MUSC president. Both votes were public and both confirmed that Cole will assume this new role later this year.

Cole, currently the chairman of the MUSC Department of Surgery and president of MUSC Physicians, was first named the new MUSC president after board members cast confidential votes during a conference call in April.

Ten board members voted for Cole last month. Seven voted for Dr. Joanne Conroy, chief health care officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges. MUSC released the final tally after The Post and Courier filed a Freedom of Information Act request when the original votes were cast.

On Thursday, all but two board members supported for Cole during the first vote. Board Chairman Tom Stephenson said after the first vote was taken some board members did not understand that they were not obligated to support the same candidate that they voted for in April during the public vote. During the second vote, all board members publicly supported Cole.

During the meeting, more than a dozen silent protestors held signs around the room calling for the board to reinstate an MUSC nurse who was recently fired.

Leonard Riley, a longshoreman and a member of the Carolina Alliance of Fair Employment, organized the protest. He said MUSC leaders need to address concerns about discrimination on campus. The group previously outlined those concerns to board members, but Riley said their words seemed to fall on deaf ears.

"They talk about their diversity plan being rolled out, but the same people that talk about rolling out the diversity plan, some of them are part of the problem," Riley said.

In April, MUSC launched a campaign to improve diversity on campus. Interim President Mark Sothmann called it one of the most important new initiatives at MUSC.

"We do have a challenge," Sothmann said Thursday. "The challenge is to make this diversity plan work."

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.