College of Charleston takes first step on path to university status

College of Charleston President Glenn McConnell

College of Charleston officials will continue the push to form a research university in the Lowcountry, despite a bill that failed in the waning days of the last legislative session.

The college's Board of Trustees Wednesday approved changes to the school's mission statement, a necessary first step on a new method of possibly achieving research university status without lawmakers' consent.

After a combative legislative session, which came to a close in June, college officials learned that the state's Commission on Higher Education might have the authority to green-light the establishment of a University of Charleston without getting approval from the General Assembly.

Glenn McConnell, the school's new president who attended his first board meeting Wednesday, said he is going to pursue approval to form a research university from both the commission and the General Assembly.

He told the board that some lawmakers have told him they will file another bill next year.

He plans to present the school's revised mission statement, which now includes the words "research institution" instead of "comprehensive institution" to the commission at its Aug. 7 meeting, he said. But even if the commission approves the plan, he wants the new University of Charleston bill to get legislative approval. "It's good insurance there will be no doubters," McConnell said.

Julie Carullo, the commission's deputy executive director, has said the commission has the authority to approve changes to the institutional missions of the state's public colleges and universities. That means that if the school requests it, the panel has the power to place a school into one of four institutional categories: research universities; comprehensive, four-year universities; two-year regional campuses of the University of South Carolina; and technical colleges.

In 2000, for example, the commission approved the University of South Carolina Beaufort's request to change from a two-year regional campus to a four-year, comprehensive university, Carullo said. That change didn't require legislative approval, Carullo said.

If the College of Charleston wants to become a research university, she said, it can apply to the commission to amend its mission. The commission would then hold public hearings before making a decision on the proposed change.

McConnell said that the school would benefit from being a classified as a research university because it then could offer doctoral degrees targeted to the needs of the local business community.

He also said the college still will maintain strong programs for undergraduates and its liberal arts core. The research university "is a component of the college," he said. "The college is not a component of it."

Todd McNerney, Speaker of the Faculty, said he thinks the board made only modest changes to the college's mission statement.

Still, some of his colleagues likely will want a more in-depth explanation on those changes. And he thinks McConnell will be willing to give them that.

Reach Diane Knich at 843-937-5491 or on Twitter at @dianeknich.