On June 21 The Post and Courier's Diane Knich reported that a Commission on Higher Education official informed incoming College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell that the College need not seek legislative authorization to initiate Ph.D. programs as a Research I University, because the CHE has the authority to grant that status itself.
Mr. McConnell's public response was understandably cautious, and he expressed interest in submitting another bill to the General Assembly.
Columnist Brian Hicks, in the June 27 Post and Courier, was much less cautious, and less prudent, effectively declaring that, since the General Assembly was behaving so parochially in this matter, Mr. McConnell and House Speaker Bobby Harrell should bypass the General Assembly and seek CHE approval.
In his opinion piece, Mr. Hicks also cast Jim Merrill and Leon Stavrinakis as local heroes in the cause of promoting a University of Charleston bill. But they proposed a forced marriage between MUSC and the college, two institutions with very different missions, faculties and staffs.
They acted without consulting with constituencies at either institution or the CHE.
It was a ham-handed, ill-considered political stunt, and set a very bad tone with the Legislature for subsequent debate on the issue.
Mr. Hicks might be right that parochial forces are at work in the General Assembly on this issue, but they are not all in the Upstate.
Further, the C of C faculty has not been consulted as to which graduate programs might be worthwhile endeavors for a University of Charleston.
What discussion has transpired on such matters has taken place entirely at the level of local politicians and general business interests. It does not seem to have occurred to Mr. Hicks or to The Post and Courier editorial staff that those might not be the only useful or informed perspectives.
There are, for example, significant student/faculty research grant opportunities associated with undergraduate status for which the college would no longer be eligible, were it to be assigned Research I designation.
And while R1 does open new avenues for grants, the college would be unable to compete effectively in that pool without major investments in graduate program infrastructure.
One of the biggest concerns for C of C faculty (and administration) has been the issue of funding the college's current operations. Then-outgoing C of C President George Benson summarized the problem neatly in his June 19 letter to the editor: "Of all 121 public universities in the country that are roughly the College's size, we receive the lowest state appropriation per student."
Given that longer legislative track record, and the more recent history of failed attempts to push University of Charleston legislation through, how likely is it that legislators would adequately fund expensive new programs at the College of Charleston?
Not very, if President McConnell and Speaker Harrell were to attempt an end run around the General Assembly.
The General Assembly doesn't adequately fund the College now. Incoming President McConnell is quite right to proceed cautiously in this matter.
Department of Philosophy
College of Charleston