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    John Warner is the author of Why They Can't Write: Killing the Five-Paragraph Essay and Other Necessities and The Writer's Practice: Building Confidence in Your Nonfiction Writing.


Colleges as Political Playthings - Pt. 5: Being Nicer to Your Toys

The C of C/MUSC merger is dead. Long live the merger!

April 2, 2014

Yesterday the South Carolina state house released a revised proposal regarding the merger of the College of Charleston with the Medical University of South Carolina.

Perhaps stung by the blowback regarding the original proposed merger, Representatives Jim Merrill (R) and Leon Stavrinakis (D) put forward a plan to scotch the shotgun marriage and “create a research university at the existing University of Charleston, South Carolina.”

In a joint statement, Merrill and Stavrinakis said, “The amendment will expand the mission at the existing University of Charleston into research university status and also allow joint efforts between the College of Charleston and MUSC to expand once both schools have their new presidents on the job. At the same time, the respective names and missions of both the College of Charleston and MUSC are preserved in law by the amendment. All parties agree this outcome will allow the relationship between MUSC and the College of Charleston to grow naturally over time, while allowing for collaboration to be pursued immediately and for merger discussions to be held in the future if required."

It’s hard not to see this as an improvement over the previous non-plan, but there’s still plenty of questions yet to be answered, such as:

1. What the heck is this thing they just created?

2. Who is going to run it? What role will C of C and MUSC faculty have in it?

3. Where is the several hundred million dollars a year necessary to run a research university going to come from?

I don’t know if the legislators are aware, but research universities do not come out of nowhere overnight.

Quick, Representatives Merrill and Stavrinakis, name a single major research university established in the last hundred years.

I’ll help. There is one, the CUNY Graduate Center in New York, which provides over $50 million a year in graduate fellowship funding alone, or over 2 ½ times the current entire state appropriation to the College of Charleston. CUNY Graduate Center also benefits from a unique partnership with the CUNY system, from which much of its faculty is drawn.

I don’t see any evidence that the political and business class of Charleston has spent any time considering the logistics of such a goal, and yet the bill’s sponsors say that they have gained “unanimous support” for this move.

I imagine that they have gained additional support, but I can’t help but notice that  stakeholder statements contained in the press release are from Charleston mayor Joseph Riley; Bobby Harrell, speaker of the House; Greg Padgett, Chairman of the Board of Trustees; Tom Stephenson, Chairman of MUSC; and Bryan Derreberry, President and CEO Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce.

You know who isn’t on that list? A single member of the faculty or any students at the College of Charleston.

So when it comes to treating the school as a political plaything, nothing has really changed. The legislature is just being a little gentler with their toy. Maybe we squeaked too loud.

Though, the legislature can’t help but continue to toss us around. In the aftermath of the selection of Glenn F. McConnell as the college’s next president, the legislature denied the re-election of Daniel Ravenel to the Board of Trustees, despite him running unopposed, reportedly because he was less than wholly enthusiastic about the choice of McConnell.

We’ll see if the legislature is chastened or this is just a merger under a different name. They should be careful with their plaything lest it be ruined.

Putting their thumbs so heavily on the scales for McConnell with the Board of Trustees could draw scrutiny from the SACS accrediting body, specifically for the BoT possibly violating standard 3.2.4 in doing the legislature’s bidding: “The governing board is free from undue influence from political, religious, or other external bodies and protects the institution from such influence. (External influence).”

They’ve also raised the hackles of students who don’t look to be backing down anytime soon, one of whom humiliated Rep. Garry Smith on Twitter and then in an op-ed regarding the controversy of the selection of Fun Home for our College Reads! program.

And if worse comes to worst, the C of C faculty senate apparently holds a kind of nuclear option, holding the right to approve (or not) any new degree programs, a power faculty seem prepared to use to resist any proposals that they feel will damage the college.

What happens when the plaything bites back?


If you want to follow the action on Twitter, I recommend the hashtag #fightforcofc.





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John Warner

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